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Incident at School

Over the course of film history in the past decades, the tragic theme of a school shooting has produced memorable takes on the issue both in commercial and arthouse cinema.

When Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, loosely based on actual events, was approached as a realistic portrait of the catastrophe, its successors’ job was to dive deeper into the problem. Yet, more importantly, they needed to cause the same, and perhaps even more enormous emotional impact and awareness of the issue than the previous films.

Eventually, filmmakers have tried but then picked up the most obvious choice – they approached the subject matter like everyone else would in their place. Then, what separates a genuine filmmaker from the rest? It’s the ability to find a new angle from which they will explore a familiar subject. Today's review is addressed at Incident at School, a flawless short film by Jacob Thomas Pilgaard.

What makes the short film groundbreaking? It’s a school shooting where we don’t see the shooter or the surroundings. Jacob Thomas Pilgaard shows fellow filmmakers, critics and cinema aficionados that it is still possible to make films in the unlikeliest ways possible. Thus, what does Incident at School deal with, or even more important – how does it deal with what it has? The answer might sound simple, but that’s because it’s the result of a complex creative process. The film is an uninterrupted, single shot of an actress who possesses only one object serving as a 'tool' to save her – her phone. The grandeur and the epic are in the background; we don’t see it, but we know that it occurs right now. Jacob Thomas Pilgaard relieves us of any redundant information regarding the shooter's motivations, as that’s not entirely necessary for the story to begin with.

It’s immense tension surrounding Eva, the protagonist of this film. It’s the fear, helplessness and despair conveying to the beholder of the singular, technically perfect shot. Pilgaard’s approach is immersive – he wants the film to move forward regardless of the circumstances. The static image needs no help from other camera movements or editing for that matter; it has enough content to keep us involved. And, it's even more compelling to see how the writer/director executes that. He shows little pieces of the puzzle instead of the whole picture. Eva tries to hide in a small compartment of the auditorium, but unsuccessfully. Then, she takes cover between the rows but doesn’t remain quiet as to pity herself. Instead, she calls her mother, but we don’t know the exact background of that call. All we know is that Eva can’t reach out to her mother for some reason. As the film moves forward, we realize that the shooting isn’t the only frontline for Eva’s fight, but it’s the turmoil of a broken relationship with an alienated parent.

Moreover, Pilgaard continues where other filmmakers would’ve stopped – Eva confronts her mother one last time, but not after the shooting ends. She only recognizes that suddenly everything is calm, and in the uncanny tranquillity lies the peek of freedom, not only because the shooter is stopped, but the new Eva, inevitably changed from the near-death experience.

Credits start to roll over the background of the auditorium, or, more precisely – over the two bodies lying on the stairs and the bottom, serving as a reminder of what could’ve happened to Eva. The film ends, but its implication and influence remain. It is said that the best films require many re-viewings; the second time with them is actually the first, and knowing that as a fact applies to Incident at School, which again, is a revolutionary short film that surpasses the traditional conventions.


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