The Smiths are a middle-class family living in a neat, little middle-class neighborhood. They are unremarkable; just a typical family living in a nondescript, typical neighborhood. They have a nice house, but then again, so do all their neighbors. They have a nice car, indistinguishable from all the other cars in the neighborhood. They wear nice clothes, too. No one would guess that this otherwise average family harbors a dark secret.
A new family has moved in next door. As it happens, the new family has a boy about the same age as Hannah, the Smith’s daughter. Hannah is a beautiful young lady, just on the edge of adolescence, so it’s no wonder that the new kid on the block, Jason, notices her. They go to school together and even attend the same church. But Hannah is very quiet, almost withdrawn–much like Jason. He tries to befriend Hannah, but her parents are quite protective of her and discourage him from any contact. One day after church Jason is playing in the yard and peeks in Hannah’s window. What he sees strikes terror in his heart. The next day at school Jason confronts Hannah, who reacts defensively: "You don’t know anything!" Jason’s slightly enigmatic reply: "Yes, I do." Is this merely a typical, junior high boy reply, arguing to save face? Or does Jason really have a deeper understanding of what Hannah is dealing with? Hannah meets Jason in the park after school and the two seem to strike up a friendship. But the friendship is short-lived, as tragedy soon strikes. To say more would ruin the ending.
No One Knows is a nine-minute short that tackles the tough subject of child abuse, touching on both physical and sexual abuse. This subject is sensitive and one must be careful it is handled in the right manner. But writer Jamie Dierks and director Bunee Tomlinson have done a splendid job in tackling the subject in a sensitive and tasteful manner. The film is both tender in the portrayal of the two children and heart-breaking in what they both must endure. Many filmmakers feel the need to insert some social commentary into a work such as this, but Dierks and Tomlinson resist the temptation to beat the viewer over the head with the obvious; they are clearly confident that the theme is sufficiently addressed within the story and allow the content to speak for itself. And the story is powerful and poignant enough to do just that–nothing else needed.
Jett Anderson and Nicole Fancher as Mr. and Mrs. Smith are very good in their respective roles. Outwardly, they are a happy couple, both attractive and well-dressed, and frequent church-goers. But it’s a different story at home, as he is quietly domineering and she is a tortured soul, powerless to stop the abuse she hates. Sami Isler stars as Hannah. Her quiet performance is made even more powerful by the heart-rending facial expressions and body language she uses. Her few lines are confidently delivered and exhibit everything from sadness and fear to anger. She is very clearly a talented young lady. Caleb Barwick plays the new neighbor boy, Jason, and he also excels in evoking emotion from his facial expressions and body language.
While child abuse is a horrific subject, together these two young actors are able to subtly depict the humanity of abuse victims, and they do so with terrific sensitivity. There is a two-pronged message here: first, abusers don’t always look like criminals–they could be your perfectly normal next-door neighbor; second, these children, horribly abused, are the real heroes. They continue to fight for some sense of normalcy to their existence, even in the face of tremendous negative power. They should be celebrated for their resiliency even as we continue to educate ourselves on the reality of child abuse.
No One Knows is currently on the festival circuit. For more information about the film, go to http://www.nooneknowsfilm.com.