Cracked Screen, written and directed by Trim Lamba, is an unsettling story about the conflict between our public and private selves.
Charting the life of one woman (flawlessly portrayed by Chantelle Levene) through her Snapchat stories, the audience becomes complicit in the voyeuristic callousness of social media when the protagonist becomes a victim of a gruesome attack.
Using Snapchat as a narrative vehicle provides a sense of authenticity to the story and, as Trim Lamba admits, many viewers believed the film to be real. “I do think that speaks eerily to our social condition today where self-broadcasted tragedy alongside smashed-up avocados and shredded abs make up this constellation of content we’re constantly subjected to,” he says. “But we should never become numb to those who are genuinely in pain.” His film reflects the dangers of taking a shallow approach to consuming real-life stories – an attitude the protagonist herself may originally have, given the ease with which she expresses herself through Snapchat in the first place. The aftermath of the attack, if anything, is a lesson in the fickle and often-cruel nature of social media.
Making this film, however, seems to have been a far more uplifting process. “We made our film on a shoestring and an Android and had no idea on how it would turn out, half anticipating catastrophe, so we have been floored by the level and depth of support,” says Lamba. Cracked Screen has racked up a series of honourable mentions and awards, including being named the BIFA 2017 longlist and winning Best British Short at the Shuffle Film Festival, but there must an irony to seeing the film on a big screen. “Our film is unconventional, inelegant and often unpleasant – the sound is scratched, the material is heavy and the visuals are grainy, and not in that “haute indie coming-of-age” way. I suppose we watch this stuff everyday on the small screens of our phones and in isolation so aggrandising it then into a communal activity offers a new and sharp perspective, like tearing a fish out of water.”
This last comparison seems apt, as the film provides little solace for viewers and leaves them with a profound sense of unease. In many ways, the tension seems to arise not just from the format of the film, but the way the attack occurs in the first place. In a world where social media forces us to present our best selves, violence is a character that emerges completely unprovoked, like an uninvited dinner guest.
Cracked Screen sheds light not simply on the normalisation of violence, but rather on how unspeakable horror can reveal the frailty of our social media selves.