LITTLE FISH (2020) follows a couple who fights to hold their relationship together as a memory loss virus spreads and threatens to erase the history of their love and courtship. The film is from the director of MORRIS FROM AMERICA (2016) Chad Hartigan, and one of the writers of the upcoming THE BATMAN (2022) Mattson Tomlin.
Casting Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell to star opposite one another was a brilliant idea from the beginning, these two are gems of British acting, both with strong screen presences, charisma, personality and intensity and they bring all of that to these roles. They have an instant and effortless chemistry that makes them enchanting to watch, then when the story takes an emotional and heart-breaking turn they bring that across just as seamlessly. Cooke is an actress full of energy and with a quality that’s endlessly sympathetic and likeable, she has a relentlessly infectious presence and she brings forth the emotions of watching her husband slowly forget who she is with such a fierce loyalty and love. O’Connell is great at being able to make characters feel strong and sensitive, he gives off a sincere confidence but balances that with a vulnerability and fear in the character of Jude. Soko and Raúl Castillo make great support actors, the latter being a very underappreciated actor despite pulling off intensely emotional roles but both of them bring that quality to this film.
One of the most captivating aspects of LITTLE FISH is how it moves and changes as the story develops, its style almost reflects the quality of memory. Its back and forth of past and present has a sentimental yet melancholy atmosphere that’s utterly beguiling, it hits the perfect balance to create a smooth, flowing and building quality to the story. Hartigan’s direction blends sci-fi, romance and drama to a tee, it’s emotional but also taps into an increasingly intense atmosphere, it easily conveys the growing risk and danger, bringing the classic dystopian future vibe. The cinematography pushes that atmosphere even further, it’s close and intimate but as the story develops the tone it creates is almost that of a horror film, done with a light but extremely effective touch. It’s a textured and enthralling visual, it’s fun when it needs to be and absolutely shattering when it needs to be but the quality and experience of it is beautifully consistent throughout. It’s also topped by a score that works perfectly to add that extra punch, it fades away at times to let the silence land but then emphasizes the sadness and romance wonderfully.
This may not be the first story to adapt the experience of dementia but it does feel like an entirely new take, turning it into a pandemic and intensifying it to a horrifying level. Even from the beginning there’s a melancholy and sense of impending doom sitting in the background, the way it’s told gives you that niggling feeling that there’s a deep sadness in their future and it makes their romance that much sweeter and the illness that much more heart-breaking. LITTLE FISH moves at a great pace, the story is constantly growing and revealing different layers, there’s an absolutely perfect level of foreshadowing that pays out in spades. It adds just enough darkness and fear to become surprisingly gripping but to also never take away from the romance at its heart, it keeps the focus so strongly on this couple that you get the best of both worlds, a devastating future and a marriage drama.
LITTLE FISH is a beautifully bittersweet romance, it’s a brilliant blend of genres that takes from drama, sci-fi and horror, with a tiny touch of thriller purely by how gripping it is. It’s thoughtful, clever, emotional and utterly riveting, it’s surprisingly and satisfyingly intense for a film so strongly focused on romance. Cooke and O’Connell are a dream team of actors, they both bring such charisma, chemistry and presence to these roles, that when put together you simply can’t take your eyes off of them. It’s superbly done and one not to be underestimated.