Director: Kris Smith
Cast: Nina Taylor, Max Rudd, Leila Kotori, Ann-Marie Doggett, Mark Wells
Plot: As Lauren’s (Taylor) situation becomes public knowledge, she must try to protect herself from a vicious media invasion on her personal life.
Set Me Free Vol. 2 is available on Youtube and is free to watch right here
Set Me Free, in its closing throes, made some bold decisions. For one, it wrote off its two leading villains, the twisted abductors of poor Lauren or Ava, robbing the story of a criminal mystery element that it could have fallen back on if the script began to struggle. It also shook up the cast, pushing a group of journalists, led by Leila Kotori’s power-driven reporter, to the front and centre of events. As a result, as Set Me Free Vol. 2 starts up, opening with a group of local news reporters deciding how best to handle the revelation of Ava, it could arguably be described as a little shaky. We are no longer in a crime thriller, but a character study of a kidnap victim, seeing the world for the first time. If the strength of the writing is not up to scratch, highly likely with independent movies of this calibre, then the whole movie could crash and burn, despite Vol. 1’s intriguing set-up.
Thankfully, like the start of a bike ride, Set Me Free’s second volume goes from unsteady start to a smooth ride. As the Boon family find their house swarmed by reporters wanting to get the first interview with Lauren, her close friends try and figure out a way to break the news to Lauren. Reluctant psychiatrist Wright, who was one day away from retirement last time (don’t worry, it’s not as cheesy as I just made it sound), suddenly rushes back to her aid, aware that there is a damaged girl who desperately needs his help. And all the while, Lauren herself is waking up to her true identity. While the media maelstrom drives the narrative forward, director Kris Smith never forgets that this is a drama about a lost girl, who was robbed of a childhood. We are hooked on how Lauren is bound to interact with the world around her, how she stomachs her abductors’ funeral, how she handles learning her real name… While it seemed like a misguided move to kill off the villains of the piece in Vol. 1, it isn’t too long before the media becomes far more destructive an antagonist than the Howards could have been. While Lauren begins to find her feet, she is caught in a frantic point where she is adapting faster than she could have hoped, but it is impossible to adapt fast enough with the media forcing her to question feelings she could never hope to be ready for. You beg for the character to have room to find her feet and evolve stronger from the other side of this dizzyingly horrific ordeal, but the media are determined to force the answers into the light, bullying answers from Lauren and always hovering around, noise that distracts from the real healing. For a lot of the movie, we are never sure whether Kotori’s reporter is pushing Lauren, because she genuinely thinks that her bullish methods will help her get through her trauma or if she is simply in this story for her own personal gain.
And once again, Set Me Free is only as good as its leading star. There are some fine performances on show here from Doggett’s gentle-hearted Rachel, determined to see Lauren’s plight out to the end, or Kotori’s gloriously boo-hissable villain, but none of them ever escape the lead star’s shadow. Nina Taylor finds herself a role that almost does the hard work for her, the script giving her the perfect character to deliver an outstandingly raw performance from. However, that steals away from how much hard work Taylor puts into the part. Would the script have offered her that glazed expression of shell-shock? The constantly sad eyes that glimmer through the pain? Those small moments of happiness made all the more excruciating when we know she is wandering down a path of false hope? In fact, the acting here is even better than before. In Vol. 1, the draw was almost a lack of character in Lauren. When she was raped by her ‘father’, it was the absence of emotion that struck chords with the audience. Vol. 1 saw Taylor handle extreme emotion or the opposite, while Vol. 2, which sees a Lauren evolving to the world around her, needs a more balanced performance from its star. Lauren begins to understand the world around her, but is still trapped a few pages behind the fast-thinking psychiatrist and sharp-talking reporters. Taylor handles the evolution of the character well, a few great moments see her breaking from the kind advice from her therapist and the parental guidance of Rachel and making her own decisions. Yes, some of her calls are disastrously wrong, but the strength comes from the fact she is able to make them. By the end of the movie, you are clinging to Taylor’s every word, begging that there is a happy ending waiting for her on the other side. Credit should also go to her supporting star, Max Rudd, who comes the closest to outshining her out of the rest of the cast. The psychiatrist role is a tricky one for an actor to be lumped with, a great platform for dishing out wise exposition, but also a part that has been approached from almost every angle by other actors. It is almost a curse getting a psychiatrist role, as you are almost expected to work wonders with it. Rudd manages to find some relatively new waters to swim in, earning our early admiration by being slightly kooky, keeping our attention by his soft-spoken intelligence and kindness, but impressing us most of all with the direction his relationship with Lauren goes down. You will see it coming a mile off and its pain comes from the inevitability of it, given Lauren’s psychological damage. It gives the finale an added edge and sends Set Me Free off in style.
Final Verdict: Vol. 2 finishes the story, coming across as the better half thanks to the development of already established characters and an intelligent portrayal of a girl adjusting to life she cannot hope to understand.