Charlotte Moreland (Alison Stover) was once a whole person, and at the hands of a domestic abuser, she has been shattered into pieces. Thus, The Four Walls of Charlotte Moreland has the title character suffering from a pervading state of panic and depression that manifests in a paralyzing form of agoraphobia. But there is a road back and the 23 minute film by Alison Stover and Joe Benedetto calls on us to be a part of the healing.
Inspired by Stover’s own experience with abuse, we are introduced to Charlotte in the bathtub, and there’s nothing soothing as we witness the fracture in full force. Like a puppet being pulled on a string, Charlotte is still at the mercy of her gaslighting abuser. “The only person in this world that really loves you is me, and right now, seriously, I’m having a hard time loving you. So what does that say about you,” Hudson torments on the answering machine. “You know that everyone that knows both of us, your entire family, our friends, they will never ever believe you.”
The easy way this abuser believes his own lies is chilling, and the accompanying Darryl John Hannan score seems to doom Charlotte to a tunnel where there’s no light at the end. In turn, Stover masterfully exudes a range of emotions that toggle between between helplessness, rage and fear. But the worst of all those expressions is submission.
Hudson might be right, according to the disorientated mindset that he provokes in Charlotte. “How can I know my own mind, when my mind doesn’t work,” Stover believably expresses the control.
The directorial choice to leave the abuser off camera only seems to broaden his reach, and a barrage of harassing texts gives off a sense of omnipotence. Add in the Dominick Sivilli cinematography of the surrounding city, and the closed in feeling clearly suggests that Charlotte remains a hostage.
No recourse left to the victim, she has grown out of touch with her own humanity, and therein lies the healing. Jane Dashow plays her psychologist, and first and foremost, Dr. Sandri treats Charlotte like a person rather than a patient.
An approach that comes across in Dashow’s deeply empathetic portrayal. As such, her delivery and facial mannerisms draws us in and projects a maternal wisdom. Charlotte is almost forced to both believe in herself and take responsibility for her own recovery. A far more effective route than having a therapist who dissects your psychosis and hopes you get better.
Those around the victim can follow a similar blueprint. So a bystander named Gigi (Maggie Wagner) fits the bill perfectly. Her own travails to deal with, Wagner meshes into the landscape with an accent and rushed discourse that says the big city can really daunt and leaves no time for anyone else.
Nonetheless, with an endearing comedic timing, Gigi is still a step ahead, and when a frazzled Charlotte stumbles across, Wagner’s performance takes the mini crisis in stride. She casually puts aside the uncaring urban stereotype and cajoles a reset for Charlotte that elevates human contact over the soulless enclosure.
The well meaning human support continues in a series of characters and serves to inspire. But the tumultuous journey can’t be completed in the running time of a short, and Stover’s immersion in the character maximizes the time frame by sending us back and forth between joy and despair.
We are the key to ending the cycle, though. Every time we bring out the humanity of a victim, a piece of the puzzle falls back into place, and The Four Walls of Charlotte Moreland wants you to know that the whole picture can be as beautiful as it ever was.