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  • Brandon MacMurray

Ninety-Five Senses Review

“The world comes to us five different ways, down the slippery tendril avenues of our five senses”

This opening line starts as a perfect takeoff point for the five senses you venture through in this animated short. Reminiscent of his role in Just Mercy, Tim Blake Nelson narrates us through this story as an incarcerated man, guiding us with his signature southern drawl. The story is inspired by the exit interviews of death-row inmates waiting for their lethal injection sentence in Texas’s Huntsville Unit.

Perhaps the most brilliant aspect of this short is director duo Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess’ (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre) decision to have a different animator illustrate each “sense” in the short, creating several unique visual experiences for the viewer to take in. Each animator was specifically chosen with a sense in mind and you can tell.

The first sense, sight, has animation that captures some of life’s most wondrous moments. It morphs seamlessly from a painting to dolphins and rainbows to fireworks and so on, never skipping a beat. Perhaps the most fun animation of the sight segment is when the dialogue appears as text on a cell phone screen, which then turns into a physical manifestation of its effect on the human eyes.

Smells have such a unique ability to invoke nostalgia and take you back to a younger age. It may be sweet - like the smell of apple crisp that brings you back to your childhood home in autumn - or less sweet, like the smell of your hockey bag when you were first learning how to skate. This nostalgic sense is portrayed flawlessly in a wistful manner as the peripheries of the animation fade out with the majority of the focus on the foreground. It’s through this medium the narrator takes us through his childhood smells and memories.

“My ears are the reason I am here today”

The story continues on with the hearing segment where our narrator’s story really comes to light as we find out the reason he sits on death row. The sound design in this segment really stands out from the sounds of lumber being fed into a machine (mixed with the impersonations of the sound by the narrator) to muted music (how you would imagine the thumping of loud music to sound if you were hard of hearing) to the clattering of dishes. It all comes together to give the segment a visceral auditory experience.

Taste is brought into the picture as he sits with his final meal before execution, explaining the thought and preparation taken into getting the meal to him. The segment starts with brightly coloured animation at a gourmet restaurant but cleverly changes the colour palette mid-scene to a more drab-green/grey tinted animation as the setting switches over to the prison.

Lastly, touch. The segment starts with very cold, grey colouring as our narrator describes the “seamless, charmless and cruelly smooth” feel of the concrete prison. As his attorney pats his hand, the warmth of soft human touch makes the scenes burst into colour as he dreams of what could have been in another life.

Our short ends with a morbid yet poetic and profound insight on the five senses. The viewer is left with a tinge of hope despite the fact that the narrator’s time is running out.

Whether it was intentional or not, the short stays apolitical on the issue of the death penalty and instead channels that energy into humanizing someone who society typically dehumanizes. The narrator of Ninety-Five Senses not only acknowledges that his own poor decisions led to his death sentence, but shares how his hearing disability may have contributed to his current situation as well. Regardless, the incarcerated, including those on death row, still have the same five senses we do and, as we see in the “touch” segment, have hopes and dreams.

Ninety-Five Senses is an incredible work of direction and collaboration, combining a sharp, evocative script by Hubbel Palmer and Chris Bowman, with animators from across the globe (including the UK, Brazil and Mexico) bringing the script to life.

Ninety-Five Senses has qualified for the 96th Academy Awards after winning the Grand Jury Award for Best Animated Short at the Florida Film Festival. It has also picked up awards at Animation Dingle, Guadalajara FICG and Rhode Island International Film Festival. The script has recently received the honour of being nominated for a Humanitas Prize, which honours writers whose work explores the human condition in a nuanced and meaningful way.

Review by: Brandon MacMurray



The short end of the stick: The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal

When it comes to cinema and the Oscars it always feels like short films and getting the short end of the stick. Lack of coverage, lack of predictions from experts and an afterthought in the conversation. With this site we hope to change that, highlighting shorts that stick with you, predictions, and news on what is happening in the world of shorts. 

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