Sylvia is the first short film from Richard Prendergast, who both wrote and directed the 17-min drama from a real story he encountered.
I can’t reveal too much about the film without spoiling it, but the relatively simple synopsis of a woman going on a short road trip with her mother and daughters to sell her car has more surprises than it appears at first sight.
The car, an old 1984 Opel Senator, is the titular Sylvia. It has been such an integral part of the family’s life that it bears a name like any family member. The rest of the family clearly loves it like a second home, each of its imperfections (a stain, for example), telling its own story. From the beginning, we understand that having to sell the car isn’t something the family really wants, yet unknown circumstances force them to.
Similarly, throughout the car journey, there is the sense that something isn’t quite right whether with the characters themselves (do they feel okay? Are they hiding something?) or the future that awaits them.
A sense of foreboding slowly but surely takes its grip on the viewer as we’re waiting for an inevitable painful climax – yet always hoping that this impression is just this, an impression, as we get attached very quickly to the small family.
All four actresses, Jolie Lennon (“Justice League”, “The Academy”) who plays the mother, Gaynor Fraser the grandmother and Maisie & Evie Prendergast her young daughters, manage to share a real chemistry that makes their relationships believable and most of all touching despite not a lot of screen time to develop it. Benjamin Hartley (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, “Top Secret”) & Willow Major complete the main cast as the man buying the car and his daughter.
The ending shines a new light on all that happened before and quickly fades into the real-life story that inspired the film, but the way the climax drops lacks the subtlety of the previous fifteen minutes. While it may be the best part of the film for some, it might also slightly disappoint others if they were expecting something less conventional.