Directed by: #RockyPalladino
Written by: #RockyPalladino
Phea, busker and aspiring singer/songwriter, loses her girlfriend, Justine, one turbulent day and is drawn to the orbit of a dangerous trafficker, who puts her own life and that of her lover’s under serious threat.
PHEA (2022) is a British indie film which fuses elements of the aspiring artist, thriller and music genre and is set in the bustling streets of London. It stars real-life busker/artist Sherika Sherard as Phea, who makes her acting debut and she wrote and performed the songs her character sings in the film. She was hired by writer/director Rocky Palladino when he first witnessed Sherika performing at Waterloo Station, with the two working together for two years to bring parts of her life and music to the screenplay. The film was unfortunately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, support from the BFI thankfully helped the team return to production.
PHEA (2022) poster
The lead and narrative frame a modern take on Orpheus, the Greek poet and musician, whose mythology closely ties in to how the movie’s suspenseful screenplay pans out over the course of an hour and a half. There is an admirable focus on diversity and celebrating minority groups in the film, with a mix of both behind and in front of the camera. Casting Sherika herself as our protagonist is an inspired choice, as the focus on a black woman struggling to score a gig in the music industry is rarely discussed as the main subject of filmmaking, therefore this movie certainly stands out as a fresh take for such an unrepresented group of the population.
PHEA exhibits lush cinematography with a gorgeous colour pallet, resulting in many shots appearing like they could belong in a museum. Palladino directs with a clear visual flair, implementing a variety of techniques to keep viewers invested in his story, ranging from shaky hand held cam to arc shots. When Justine goes missing one morning, Phea searches for her at her workplace, where suspicious and dark activity is taking place in the basement, resulting in a heart racing sequence as Phea sneaks around the building. The film bosters an impressive, immersive sound design alongside brilliant direction throughout, keeping spectators on the edge of their seats as we are introduced to a dangerous figure in a trafficker, deemed ‘Uncle’.
Although the film does subtly confront issues surrounding mental health and well being in both Phea and her partner, Justine, there does appear to be a lack of focus to the screenplay, especially during the middle act. The first and final segments of the film are very strong for character writing and maintaining an engaging pace, however, an added surreal quality to the halfway mark and some meandering segments may be off putting to many viewers. The movie is essentially saved by its gripping final fifteen minutes, where our leads find themselves in a riveting life or death situation and the fates could go any way.
Overall, PHEA struggles from an often stretched narrative, but dynamic direction, original inspiration and exceptional performances manage to elevate this indie flick to something worth investing your time in.