If Anything Happens I Love You: Grief in the Aftermath of School Shootings

You mustn't sleep on this poignant short film.

If Anything Happens I Love You
If Anything Happens I Love You

A lot of times, short film pieces are swept under the rug when they are compared to feature films. Whether it’s due to their association with apprentice directors who are trying to make a name for themselves, or because the public don’t find the same level of entertainment from them as bigger productions, it’s just a fact that they don’t take centre stage in the film industry often. However, one of the most powerful films to come out in 2020, If Anything Happens I Love You stands out from most films. It doesn’t have a big production value, it doesn’t have any dialogue, the sound design is limited, though very well done. It’s animated with a very limited colour palette and it’s not even very long, with a thirteen-minute run time. However, in all its simplicity, it tells a moving and tragic story that will move viewers.

Written and directed by Will McCormack and Michael Govier, the film follows two parents suffering the loss of their only daughter, each mourning in silence at first. They find brief comfort in the first instances of colour seen in the film: the father smiles at a mark of blue paint on the wall, while the mother clutches a blue t-shirt to her face. When a song starts playing in their daughter’s room, they end up reflecting together, remembering the happy memories of their baby girl growing up until she goes to school. Gunshots are heard, with the daughter’s final text to her parents being: “if anything happens I love you.” As the film reverts back to the present, the daughter’s memory, once portrayed as a shadow, turns into a bright light as the parents hug.

While that plot summary is an accurate description of the movie, it doesn’t do it enough justice as a viewing experience. This film is a masterclass in show-don’t-tell. With no dialogue, the film uses its sound design and visuals to tell its story. Animated by Youngran Nho and his team, there is a very limited use of colour, giving way to mostly black shadows or stark white backgrounds. At first, the use of colours is only given positive connotations, with the limited pieces of blue being used where the parents find the memory of their daughter. In conjunction with these visuals, there is only a soft piano piece.

In the happy flashbacks, the music swells more into life, first with King Princess’s 1950 playing on the daughter’s record player as her ghost plays with the family cat, then there is a more liberal use of colour and happier piano music as the parents reflect on her growing up. For the more haunting moments, the once-soft colours are more pronounced in the American flag and the police sirens. The shadows of the parents try to stop their little girl from walking into her school. It’s these subtle animation queues and beautiful composition that help truly sell this tragic story.

Though the film quite clearly focuses on this tragedy as an American issue, people need to remember that places all over the world have experienced this horror in some shape or form. The last school shooting Scotland faced was on March 13, 1996, at Dunblane Primary School. Eighteen people lost their lives, including the perpetrator, with fifteen others injured. It was the deadliest school shooting in British history. I was five months old at the time. Though time doesn’t heal the horrors, this event catalysed two Firearm acts to be passed, outlawing private ownership of most handguns in the UK.

Even though countries all over the world have introduced regulations to help keep their schools safe, this movie illustrates how much of an issue it is in the U.S, despite its universal emotional themes. According to a survey by Everytown for Gun Safety – a charity which has been tracking incidents of gunfire on school grounds since 2013 in response to a lack of research and data on the issue – there were at least 66 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the USA in 2020 as of the the first of December, which resulted in 14 deaths and 30 injuries.

It’s tragic to think we still live in a world where this film is a reality to some rather than a heart-breaking piece of fiction. The message ‘if anything happens I love you’ bears a startling resemblance to those messages sent out by the victims of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018. In an interview with Animation Scoop, McCormack said “we wanted to create an elegy for these parents who have dealt with that grief that no one should have to go through.”

Though gun regulations and school shootings in the U.S have been an ongoing debate for as long as many of us can remember, and this film stands as a powerfully honest portrait of those affected by it. Despite it being only thirteen minutes long, it tells a moving story that will have a profound effect on the viewer. It’s a viewing experience that is deeply emotional and tackles very sensitive topics without saying anything at all.

It’s nothing short of a perfect short film.

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