REVIEW: The Empty Playground [2010]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 6 minutes | Release Date: April 25th, 2010 (USA)
Studio: Leeds Street Productions
Director(s): Phil Giordano
Writer(s): Phil Giordano

“I can’t get you out of my mind”

You could learn a whole lot about a person by showing them Phil Giordano‘s The Empty Playground and asking what he/she thought. Are you one who sees the good in people and metaphors of a lost child unable to be saved or does your cynical nature overpower to view a pedophile never able to assimilate back into society as the mark of what he’s done remains plastered in his eyes?

Depicting a middle-aged gentleman named Jack (Marty Lodge) alone in his van before having someone catch his eye out the window, we’re never given the full details as to how he arrived at the playground or what brought him there. Lasting only a short four minutes, Giordano leaves the whys to his audience and their capacity to show compassion in a man who easily could be a monster.

Acted with a wonderful display of duality, Lodge’s kindhearted grin towards young Amanda (Skyla Schreter) takes on a much different meaning once we see his determinedly unsure face forebodingly at the back of his van. The girl yearns to be missed by him and clamors for his love, but is it a bond of blood or a misguided mind ensnared by a false sense of security? Always the victim no matter how you interpret the work, the question of predator becomes the missing piece glaring at us for an answer.

To me the key lies with a bystander named Lydia (June Rose). Curious in seeing Jack for the first time since his stay at the hospital, she’s forced to approach him and say hello. It’s her reaction to the ‘hospital stay’ that gives me pause from thinking the worst of this tragic man lost inside the dark recesses of a loneliness manifested by his mind. I feel she would be disgusted and unwilling to go near him if the horrors easily entering my thoughts were true, but for all I know she’s merely unaware of the true reason he went away.

I’m sure it says more about me being forever optimistic in the light of questionable morality than the film for holding steadfast in my hope that Jack is scarred emotionally rather than psychologically. The fact The Empty Playground allows us to also see a metaphor for an evil man walking the rest of his life alone and haunted by demons ripping apart his soul is a credit to the filmmaker’s ability to say so much with a very economical length of time.

There are a couple odd details hindering me from feeling one hundred percent sure of either direction, but this may be intentional misdirection rather than plothole-like errors of judgment. In the end, it is Lodge’s embarrassment and Schreter’s haunting eyes drawing you in both before and after we discover her true identity that sticks with me. As such, my humanity begs me to project a broken father and his lost little girl. I’m not sure, however, if that’s a sign of my strength, weakness, or naivety.

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courtesy of press kit

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