The Plastic House Review: One Is the Loneliest Number

A stark essay on grief

3 mins read

The Plastic House
(Australia, 45 min.)
Dir. Allison Chhorn

For a film that emphasizes isolation, viewed during a prolonged period of isolation, The Plastic House conveys a remarkable sense of communion. This largely silent slice of slow cinema from director Allison Chhorn delivers a melancholy study in grief and meaning. Chhorn saturates the film in loneliness. However, the film evokes its sense of mourning quite palpably through the power of images and ambient sounds. The Plastic House implies a great sense of longing as Chhorn invites viewers to enter her world and experience her sense of walls closing in.

Chhorn pulls double duty as both director and subject of the film. Her personal approach is hauntingly effective. She confronts the deaths of her immigrant parents, taking her camera to two sites marked only by title cards noting the years of their births and deaths. (The few snippets of dialogue in The Plastic House feature Chhorn’s Cambodian parents speaking Khmer in lo-fi archival images.) The parents’ absence fills the film with sadness as Chhorn and her camera observe the greenhouse where the family worked. She turns the earth, harvests peas, and inspects the dilapidated roof that her parents never quite seemed able to fix. (In the aforementioned archival images, the parents try to repair the roof against the incoming rainstorm.)

Living next door to an air force base, Chhorn’s days are punctuated with infrequent whooshes. The Plastic House resonates with a weighty sense of time passing, solitude, and contemplative malaise. Chhorn never reveals herself in the film, either, which further adds to a sense of alienation. It’s as if she welcomes a viewer into her home, yet hides herself from them. Her hair shields her face or she frames herself from behind. By drawing a viewing in and conveying her loneliness so starkly, Chhorn’s film ultimately evokes a great sense of comfort as it puts one in such proximity to the director. The Plastic House is elusive, but its sense of grief and introspection are immediately within grasp.

The Plastic House screens at RIDM beginning November 19.

Visit the POV RIDM Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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