Twentysomething Anne (Deragh Campbell), the protagonist of Kazik Radwanski’s Anne at 13,000 Ft., a film that’s one part fleeting and two parts restive, challenges herself by skydiving in the opening sequence, intercut with images of her working with kiddos at a daycare center. She makes the jump successfully, opens her parachute successfully and lands on her feet successfully, but spends the next hour and change in continual freefall. This is not a movie about a young woman pushing her boundaries. This is a movie about a young woman who, having won a rigged staring contest with Death, goes on living her life in anticipation of round two.
Nothing goes well for Anne, perhaps because there’s something wrong with her. She’s sweet, sure, charming, fun, apparently full of energy and vigor. She’s a remarkable actress, too, not in the context of a stage but the context of social masking: Anne clearly struggles with deep-rooted behavioral health troubles that she’s discomfitingly adept at covering up. Sometimes these quirks manifest as harmless, as in that opening sequence, when she lets one of the boys under her charge splash in a public pool while wearing his clothes; at others, they manifest as grating, and at others still, reckless. Anne has far less facility for disguising the latter two as innocent. The chances that her coworker, Suzanne (Suzanne Pratley), will take it as good humor when Anne throws an empty coffee cup at her head are low.
Suzanne and others, notably Anne’s mother, Barb (Lawrene Denkers), her best friend, Sarah (Dorothea Paas), and her eventual boyfriend Matt (Matt Johnson), all try to get her to open up about what’s eating her, though none manage to squeeze one vulnerable word out of her. It would help if they had more empathy and less exasperation with her, though Anne at 13,000 Ft. takes great pains to convey their collective besetment without making them all look like assholes. Even Suzanne, a real stickler for rules, has a reason for being on Anne’s case. Radwanski empathizes with the frustration felt by each of these characters, but maintains more empathy for Anne as the frustrating party, too. Nothing sucks quite like being the one who, inevitably and over time, will drive everyone in your orbit batty just by being yourself.
The immediate reference point for Anne at 13,000 Ft. is John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence. It’s almost impossible to imagine that Radwanski isn’t a fan of that film, but Anne at 13,000 Ft. couples the Cassavetes foundation with a few dashes of Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12), Trey Edward Shults (Krisha) and Eliza Hittman (Never Rarely Sometimes Always), a trio of young directors compelled by the same naturalist style that Radwanski commits to here. His film is light, airy and warm, a bright spot in the heart of a hurricane that’s offset by Anne’s increasingly manic conduct. She very much craves normalcy, whatever that looks like to her. She brushes off her idiosyncrasies as “jokes,” though no one’s in on them but her and thus no one but her is laughing; she ends up in awkward circumstances with men much older than she is, whether a maladroit Tinder date (Pat Bianco) or the silver fox (Chris Peterson) who happens to be the father of the boy at the swimming pool. Nothing is wrong. Everything is wrong. Anne simply can’t face it.
Anne at 13,000 Ft. gives her no room to breathe. The atmosphere is suffocating. Radwanski keeps close proximity with her, to the extent that Campbell’s performance at times appears to be in control of the camera: She moves and the camera is compelled to follow, as if Nikolay Michaylov isn’t the one guiding the lens at all. As far as the movie is concerned, the entire world hinges on every action she takes, which feels like a nifty way of externally acknowledging the mounting internal pressure on Anne to pretend she’s not actually falling apart. Campbell nails that specific kind of performance. She emotes with her eyes and holds the rest of her face still, as if she’s convinced everyone’s awareness of her well-being is based on movement. They won’t know she’s in distress if she doesn’t flinch!
The consequences of Anne’s shyness are blurry. They might be workaday or they might be tragic. But the effect of Campbell’s acting is undeniable. It’s hard to capture the dual state of vulnerable and aloof that people laboring against anxiety and depression are so good at maintaining, and it’s hard to make that cinematic without forcing subtext to the surface. She and Radwanski pair well. Together, they make Anne at 13,000 Ft. into a work that may leave the audience gasping for air.
Director: Kazik Radwanski
Writer: Kazik Radwanski, Deragh Campbell
Starring: Deragh Campbell, Lawrene Denkers, Matt Johnson, Dorothea Paas, Suzanne Pratley, Chris Peterson, Pat Bianco
Release Date: September 3, 2021
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.