As I have mentioned previously in my book analysis post, I have chosen to analyse a number of films about domestic abuse because it relates to the theme of my short film and will therefore give me inspiration for shot types, location settings and how to light my film as well as ideas on how my characters should act and what they would say in this situation.
The first film I have chosen to analyse is Murdered by My Boyfriend (2014) which was directed by Paul Andrew Williams and produced by BBC Three. The film tells the story of Ashley Jones who is a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her aggressive and controlling boyfriend, Reece. It is a documentary / drama, based on real events and follows the relationship between Ashley and Reece as he becomes more controlling and violent towards her. Character names have been changed to protect the innocent.
The film starts by showing a blurry close up of feathers, with a voiceover of a male voice shouting. It becomes clear that this is part of the end scene of the film when it cuts to a close up of Ashley’s face and eyes, which are covered in feathers as a voiceover (done by Ashley) says “This is the end of my story. The journey here was not straightforward, it began when I fell in love, when the only future I could imagine was happy. I held onto that dream for as long as I could, until my broken body and beaten heart were forced to let go.”
As the shot is a close up, the audience cannot tell what time of day the shot is set at, however this type of mise en scène (dark lighting with a blue hue) is often used to create moonlight, which signifies that it is night time in this scene. I think that as well as using mise en scène to show the time of day, it has also been used to represent the darkness of the situation as domestic abuse and violence is seen as a dark subject.
As the voiceover ends, the shot changes to a close up of a snow globe, which zooms out and uses a focus pull to show Ashley getting ready in her room with pop music playing. The change of shot signifies that the story has gone to the beginning.
A focus pull is a shot type I want to experiment with in my own short film, as I could use it to show my character in a flashback scene when she is reaching for an object to lash out at her abuser with. A focus pull which draws the audience away from, and then to the object (a mug) will draw the audiences attention to the object, meaning that they will focus on it although they won’t know how it is significant in the film yet. As they see how the object is used they may feel shocked as they realise the objects significance.
The next shot I looked at is a close up shot which shows the main character Ashley, who is going out with her friends. Ashley is positive, happy and surrounded by her friends. During the conversation with her friends she mentions that she wants “love, marriage, babies, my own salon” which shows she has aspirations and is looking forward to the future.
A sound bridge is used to transition between scenes, the transition is also shown with a title which says ‘Day 1.’ Pop music is playing, which gives the audience the idea that the characters are on a night out.
The scene then cuts to a party scene, where a close up of Ashley dancing is used to show that she is having fun and is happy and carefree. Ashley is shown talking to different people, which shows she has a lot of friends.
The scene then shows Ashley walking through to another room, as she passes a male character, Reece, he turns his head to follow her with his eyes, showing the audience that he is interested in her. Although the mise en scéne in this shot is typical party scene lighting (a disco ball, fairy lights and low – lighting) the use of a red disco light at this moment could also signify that Reece is a ‘bad’ character.
The next shot I have chosen to analyse is a wide shot, the characters are still at the party but have moved to the kitchen. Three of the main characters are in this scene: Ashley, Reece and Ashley’s best friend. This scene shows the first interaction between Ashley and Reece as he starts a conversation with her, attempting to be flirtatious and gets her a drink.
The scene then cuts to another title, ‘Day 2.’ It opens with a close up of Ashley and her friends at a shopping mall, where they see Reece and his friends, it seems as if Ashley has planned to be there at the same time as Reece in order to ‘accidentally’ see him again as she says things like “He’s there, that’s him” and “Right, I’m going now.”
The characters are on opposite escalators and have a conversation, where Reece tells Ashley to wait for him at the bottom. The scene then cuts to a two shot of the characters together at a diner, on a date. A two shot is another shot I want to use in my film, especially during the end flashback in the kitchen as both characters will be standing parallel to each other. The background for each character is out of focus so that the audience is not distracted from the main characters. This is not something I will use in my film as I only have 2 characters interacting with each other at a time.
Close up shots are then used to show the characters facial expressions as they have a conversation about themselves, Reece seems genuinely interested in Ashley and her ambitions, although his facial expression is cool unless he is grinning. Reece seems very stotic compared to Ashley, who is full of passion and bright – eyed and smiling when she speaks about what she wants to do in future.
The next shot I have chosen to analyse is further along in the storyline, the scene is a mid shot of the couple (it has been established that they are dating now) in a car. Reece takes Ashley’s phone and looks through it, a sign of control in a relationship, he then jokingly asks her who ‘Mick’ is but becomes serious when she doesn’t tell him the first time. This is the first warning sign.
As my film is shorter (around 2 – 5 minutes) there is less time to use warning signs such as this to build up the abuse, especially when it is shown in flashbacks, which are usually short. I will however show different types of emotional abuse, such as control over the partner, quick aggression and anger through the dialogue my characters use and the tone of voice they use. For example, to show that there is tension building in a scene my male character will speak at a normal volume, and increase until he is shouting.
The next scene I have chosen to analyse uses a title to show 3 months have passed. In the scene, Ashley finds out she is pregnant. A wide shot, which goes into a close up shows the couple arguing about the pregnancy. As Ashley is young she doesn’t want to keep the baby, however Reece convinced her to keep it by saying that he loves her and that he will stay with her, offering her reassurance.
The story then uses a blank title to transition between that scene and the next, which is shown to be 6 months on. Ashley is 6 months pregnant here. The scene is a two shot / close up of the couple in a car, they are arguing over where they will live once the baby is born. Reece chooses to keep his dogs living with him rather than get rid of them which would allow Ashley to move in.
The couple go into Reece’s house and continue to argue, non diegetic music plays and increasingly gets louder as Ashley speaks (shown in a close up,) Reece isn’t listening to her and seems distracted, however his facial expression, shown using a close up, shows he is angry.
Suddenly, Reece snaps and pushes Ashley whilst shouting that he is now tied to her forever because of the baby, this is a big chance from the earlier scene where he reassured Ashley about looking after the baby and convinced her to keep it. Ashley lands against the wall and falls to the floor. A mid shot, with empty space to the right is used to shown Ashley sitting against the wall with her knees up, almost hugging them. This is the type of position I want my character to sit in in a scene in my film, where the character is sitting against a brick wall. The position is childlike (hugging knees) and is defensive as the person is trying to protect themselves.
Ashley leaves the house as Reece tries to apologise, a two shot is used to show Reece hugging Ashley outside the house in an attempt to get her to stay. She continues to leave and a mid shot shows that Reece doesn’t follow her, which could be because he knows he doesn’t have to as he knows she will come back to him.
“I couldn’t leave him, not just because of a single moment. This is the man who tells me I’m beautiful, the man who tells me he loves me. The father of my child. I went back because of everything good that had came before this day, and the hope that the years to come would be the same.”
A mid shot then shows Ashley sitting outside the house comforting Reece, who is hugging her and crying whilst apologising profusely.
Another title is then shown, showing that three years have passed. Ashley is talking to a friend over the phone about going out whilst getting dressed and Reece comes home. A close up shows Reece interacting with his daughter – he is happy and nice, however he sees Ashley and his face drops. He speaks to her through their child, saying “is that what mummy’s wearing?” as he doesn’t approve of her outfit. Ashley goes to change instead of arguing with Reece, this shows that he is controlling her by controlling what she can and can’t wear.
It is then shown that Ashley has taken the original outfit with her and changed at the club they are at in an act of defiance. Her friend comments that she “shouldn’t have to do that” showing that it is not a normal relationship.
Reece constantly tries to contact Ashley whilst she is out, to check up on her which again shows he is being controlling. A close up shows Ashley looking happy whilst with her friends before cutting to a close up of her phone ringing with Reece as the caller. Another close up shows the change in Ashley’s face as she now looks upset.
Reece is then shown to be at home with daughter, looking through Ashley’s FaceBook account and making comments on her friends whilst deleting male friends. Usually, having passwords to their partners accounts is another element of control in a relationship as they are controlling who they socialise and interact with.
A title then shows three months have passed and Ashley and Reece are redecorating Jasmine (their child’s) bedroom and another voiceover is heard, it says:
“There were good times too, when we felt like a normal family. But I could only ever feel what he wanted me to feel. I could only be happy if he was.”
The next scene I have looked at is a mid shot of Ashley at work with her colleague. She receives a text from Reece asking her to send a picture of where she is, this is another element of control in abusive relationships. This scene is interesting as it shows how controlling Reece is and how willing Ashley is towards him. This scene has inspired me to include something similar in my own film, in the second flashback scene where the victim character is looking at her bruised face in the mirror I originally wanted to include a scene where she starts receiving abusive text messages from her partner, however I may replace this with the idea of the partner asking to see where she is.
The next scene I have chosen to analyse is later on in the film and shows Reece attacking Ashley at work, because she has gone to visit the woman Reece has been sleeping with behind her back.
A wide shot shows Ashley and her colleague talking to some customers as Reece angrily walks towards them, he headbutts Ashley which knocks her to the ground and then threatens to punch the male customer (shown as a mid shot) after he tries to intervene.
As the customers flee the shop, Reece drags Ashley by the hair into a dressing room and begins to beat her whilst berating her for visiting the other woman. The angle of the camera and Reece’s body blocks the viewer from seeing his fist connect with Ashley’s body, an obvious reason for this is because the punches are fake, however another reason for this could be that the scene would be too distressing for viewers. Using a certain camera angle or body positioning is an idea I will experiment with during scenes when physical violence is shown in my film.
A mid shot is then used to show Reece exiting the shop angrily whilst Ashley’s colleague is on the phone to the police. She then rushes in to the dressing room to help Ashley, who is bleeding badly. A close up of Ashley’s face shows the damage Reece has done and she says “Its over, its fucking over now” meaning that she has finally decided to leave him. It is sad to see that it has taken such a violent act to make her leave him, however it is an interesting scene as it shows that Reece has either lost control of his anger or that he is confident in the fact that he won’t be caught and doesn’t care. Although both could be true, the first reason is the most obvious as the character looks angry throughout the scene and is extremely violent.
The last scene I have chosen to analyse is the end of the film, where Reece murders Ashley through a horrific beating. In the scene the couple are back together, however during their time apart Ashley has slept with another man in an attempt to move on with her life and Reece is suspicious. Reece returns home from a night out and crawls onto the bed where Ashley is pretending to sleep, Reece begins questioning her about wether she has ‘cheated’ on him and she quickly gives up the pretence of sleep and denies that she has slept with someone else. This is shown using close ups of each character as they speak, Reece’s facial expression shows that he is angry whereas Ashley’s shows fear.
Ashley finally admits to sleeping with another man and a wide shot is used to show Reece as he sits on top of Ashley and begins beating her as she screams. The camera then widens the shot and pans to the left slightly before cutting to a wide shot of their child, Jasmine’s, door open and Jasmine sitting on her bed.
A mid shot is then used to show Reece dragging Ashley from the bed and onto the floor at the left side of the bed to continue hitting and kicking her. He then stops and slides down the wall, getting up once Jasmine walks into the room. He runs to her and places her back into her bed and she begins to cry for her mother.
Reece then goes back into the bedroom where Ashley is and retrieves an ironing board from the corner before using it to hit Ashley continuously. Again, the bed and the camera angle is used to prevent viewers from seeing the violent act.
A close up of Ashley’s face is shown, similar to the one at the beginning of the film which shows the narrative is circular (beginning and ending with the same shot.) A voiceover, similar to the one from the beginning says:
“This is the end of my story, the journey has not been straightforward. It’s not about weakness, or strength. It began and ended when I fell in love, but this is not a love story.”
‘Ashley lay dying for two hours before an ambulance was called. She died soon after reaching hospital.’
‘Reece was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. His minimum sentence was increased from 15 to 20 years on appeal because the attack was so brutal. The use of an ironing board as a weapon was a contributing factor.’
Another sentence is shown, over a blank screen explaining that in the four years it took for Ashley to be murdered, at least 229 other women in England died as a result of domestic violence. Including facts like this is a real eye – opener for viewers and raises awareness of a subject, this is something I may do at the end of my own film.
Analysing Murdered By My Boyfriend has helped me to further develop my narrative as it has given me new ideas for scenes, ideas for the types of shots and camera angles I could use and ideas for how my characters should act.