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Categories: Movie Reviews

Cameron Johnson reviews Phil Sheerin’s heartfelt short “North”, winner of the Best UK Short award at Raindance.


Phil Sheerin’s North, about a teenage boy struggling to cope with the deteriorating health of his mother, is a touching short that ultimately leaves a little to be desired. Proving the limits to the short format, the film misses greatness because we don’t get enough time to get to know its characters. 

Barry Keoghan stars as Aaron, a teen living on a farm with his dying mother Mary (Emer McCourt). Also with them are a few extended family members, though exactly how everyone is related is uncertain. Regardless, it’s clear everyone has gathered at the farm to live out the last few days of Mary’s life. Aaron is clearly unhappy about this resignation, and constantly tries to get his mother to take her medication, which she refuses. The others seem to hold disdain for Aaron, criticizing his weakness and telling him to “grow up”, and then yelling at him whenever he tries to defend himself. 


Disagreements between Aaron and the rest of the family build, causing him to bottle up his anger in fear of retaliation from his harsh uncles. Who inherits the farm? Why won’t Aaron grow up and accept his mother’s fate? Is it right to just let her die? These questions grow internally and externally, with many shots of the film being silent ones of Aaron walking around the farm, playing with his dog and wallowing in his sorrows. These allow us to see into Aaron’s broken soul, one of a boy who is painfully close to losing the only person in this world he has a real connection with.

This leads to quite the heartwarming conclusion, though by the end of the film we’re left feeling a little empty. At only 22 minutes long, the short doesn’t spend near enough time developing the relationships between the characters, and in having limited dialogue we don’t come to learn enough about each person to really understand the conflict. The only characters given much focus are Aaron and his mother, but even then, more could have been done to find ways to connect the audience to them. The scenes push emotional buttons, but when connected together, don’t paint a full picture. 


Nonetheless, North is a mostly good short, with solid performances, good cinematography (a lot of it creatively off-center), and strong attention to detail in the mise-en-scène. The latter is a talking point, because the film seems to be set at some point in the past, though this is not specified and I wasn’t able to pinpoint exactly when the film was supposed to be set. Still, whatever period it is, it’s a well-organized one that creates a very specific and absorbing atmosphere. 

The momentum for North is building, with festival appearances and subsequent awards across the world. For director Phil Sheerin, who made the film while studying for his master’s at NFTS, it should be a springboard from which to start a promising career. 

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

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