Ewan Gleadow

Review: Shirkers

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If there’s one medium of film Netflix can get right, it’s documentaries. 

Icarus has become a modern classic, as politically relevant as it was upon its release just two years ago. Get Me Roger Stone has followed a similar process also, so it does seem like Netflix have what it takes to make a great documentary feature. Shirkers looks to continue that trend, delving into the disappearance of one budding filmmaker’s ambitious debut film. 

Shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, it’s easy to see why Shirkers is so appealing, especially to fans of film.  

Following the story of director Sandy Tin, Shirkers is a look into the independent movie she made and lost over the course of her teenage years, and its sudden resurgence back into her life. It’s a very interesting subject, full of neat little anecdotes about people you won’t have heard of but will feel instantly connected to.  

What’s fairly damning is that the footage we see of Shirkers the movie looks incredible, a feeling that this could’ve been the next big thing is definitely held throughout the film, but it’s up to the audience as to whether or not they agree with that narrative. The more footage we see, the more the references to contemporary films appear. It becomes a focal point of the documentary, and it’s probably the most interesting part of all.  

Shirkers does have its fair share of problems though. The narrative darts back and forth with severe inconsistency: one moment we’ll be shown images and interviews from the production of the film, the next moment we’ve leapt to the modern day to talk about the documentary maker as a person. It feels like director Sandy Tin is more obsessed with massaging her ego than actually delivering an interesting story. 

But at the same time, her interviewees and friends are brutally honest with how they felt about her while shooting the movie. Aside from a handful of minor revelations, Tin doesn’t exactly go into the depths of her personal life – and that makes sense, especially considering the real subject matter of the documentary: what exactly happened to her teenage film project?

The answer is a surprising one.

Surprising in the sense that we actually get closure to what happened and why. Many documentaries out there are left open ended, not out of choice but due to lack of information. Shirkers has everything it needs to create a truly interesting narrative, and it does just that.  

Tin’s egotistical, yet impressive direction is right at the core of Shirkers. How could it not be? Considering its prominence as both subject and auteur throughout the documentary.

A well-rounded documentary that at times loses its focus, a surprising entry into solid Netflix movies, however few there are.