Brian Lawes brings us into a world that doesn’t exist in the minds of most Americans. In other words, many of us traverse the bucolic nature of our suburban lifestyles and assume all is good. But the reality is that there are many who go under the radar and suffer the ravages of poverty. Zuri (Dash Melrose) is among those we have come to overlook, and a 16 minute short film called Lost Kings importantly exposes his face.
The film gives us just that hidden sense from the outset. A young teenager is walking home through what seems like a safe and uneventful neighborhood, and while the home or apartment he enters is far from plush, all seems ok. This especially when Zuri gives his younger brother Jaden (Jacob M Wade) a knowing big brother poke to lighten the mood and reminds us the menial sibling rivalries we overcame.
Completely white baron walls can be overlooked and maybe the exposed plywood in the kitchen means mom and dad are simply in the middle of a little remodeling. The empty cupboard for little brother’s snack is concerning, but like any other kid, Zuri may just be looking in the wrong place.
No luck in the subsequent cabinets, and the cinematographic lighting that Vincent Gonneville projects almost turns the actor’s face into a silhouette. In turn, there’s still plenty of illumination to now read the hopelessness on Melrose’s grimace.
On the other hand, Jaden seems oblivious before the TV set. But as Zuri leaves to some how rectify the situation, the solitary little boy in the lonely room sends a message. Wade silently conveys a rage that translates to resignation over his plight, and we know food insecurity goes beyond this afternoon.
The slow spinning ceiling fan confirms the never ending cycle, and the general haze that Gonneville produces feels like a fog that will never lift. So the crossroad for Zuri begins at a gas station convenience store. A pack of instant chow mein on the shelves, he reaches for the low nutrition food, and his decision is made. He’s going to steal.
But his first shot at larceny goes awry and one thing is known for sure : Zuri is not cut out for crime. Still, hunger is a powerful force, and a better plan is needed.
He ponders on his bike through the neighborhood, and the Aaron Newberry searching score doesn’t provide any answers. However, the weight of Melrose’s expression now adds a question.
All the affluence and beauty abound, how did me and my brother fall through the cracks? Of course, Melrose’s perplexed glare is also putting the question to us, but Zuri doesn’t have time to let guilt answer for us.
His knowing glance sees opportunity and easy access into a well-to-do home moves the story to the next act. Resignation again and in his sad eyes, Zuri must do what has to do.
The score through the fridge is easy enough, but like any cinematic crime, the peril of being caught must come due. In this case, it’s because Zuri can’t keep his eye on the ball. A look around reveals a loving, secure family existence, and the 12 year old realizes the pit in his stomach is not all he is lacking.
The stutter step begins closing Zuri’s window and Lawes keeps the viewer engaged as though they are children themselves. So the terror of being found out prevails rather than the opportunity that his capture provides.
Services would kick in for this child and his brother but Lost Kings isn’t looking for a way out for the boys. The film doesn’t want us to escape so easily, because there are so many more who need us and their despair won’t end until we recognize it exists.