Short Cuts: Ethan Soo's SWEPT UNDER
Short Cuts is a new feature in which we chart a direct route to exciting genre shorts that deserve to cut through the clutter.
Armed coups, military conflicts and the wars they can trigger are unquestionably rife with horror, a certitude cinema hasn’t shied away from showing in classics like Apocalypse Now but also in more overt genre fare, be it by depicting the immediate carnage of violent confrontation (Overlord), by delving into its psychological aftermath (Jacob’s Ladder) or by illustrating how cruel treatment can breed animalistic savagery (Werewolf).
And yet, for all the countless films that have addressed such atrocities, there aren’t many that have successfully used a fantastical lens to collectively capture generational refugee trauma, genocide and the exacerbation of hostilities due to foreign intervention and escalation. In less than ten minutes, Ethan Soo’s Swept Under accomplishes all of the above as it shines a light on an underexposed chapter in US-Cambodian relations, specifically the former’s military intervention in and carpet bombing of Cambodia as well as the role this played in helping the Khmer Rouge expand power during the Civil War.
If that sounds like a heavy history lesson, rest assured Soo is far too capable a filmmaker to let didacticism take over and undermine the visceral, cinematic efficiency of his potent short. Telling his story with a mix of archival footage and a contemporary focus on Cameron (Alvin Heng), a Cambodian adoptee who is gifted a rug by his American sister as a memento of his native country, Swept Under grabs viewers by the throat with chilling, symbolic resonance.
Aided by smart cinematography, tight editing, a percussion-heavy score and eerie sound design, Soo makes the most of his creative premise to deliver an important work of representation in the genre space that visualizes generational trauma and reclaims history by giving visibility to events that contributed to the Cambodian genocide and the lives that were lost because of it. More than that, by framing the Asian-American specificity of this story within a universally recognizable context of warfare, refugee crises and failed (or questionable) interventions elsewhere Soo drives home an exceedingly topical critique of mankind’s own hand in repeating patterns of historical suffering.
Swept Under is headed for Fantasia next and will surely continue to travel the world as it marks Soo as a significant talent with a distinct voice and a bright future.
Read on for the official synopsis and watch the trailer below. Be sure to head over to Ethan Soo’s website for more information on Swept Under as well as his other works.
After receiving a housewarming rug from his sister, a Cambodian adoptee discovers a dark history hidden underneath its surface.