Features and Columns · Movies

Constraints as Style: The Visual Language of “Emily the Criminal”

When constraints lead to creativity, good things happen.
Emily The Criminal
By  · Published on March 27th, 2023

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that explores the style and form of “Emily the Criminal.”

As far as compelling feature film debuts go, 2022’s runaway success story was Emily the Criminal. Written and directed by John Patton Ford, the crime thriller premiered at Sundance, where its tale of a young, debt-riddled ex-felon (Audrey Plaza) attempting to make a decent living left audiences eager to see what Ford will do next.

As many a striking feature film debuts before it, Emily the Criminal does a lot with very little, relatively speaking. With a budget of $1.5 million and a shooting schedule of around 20 days, Ford and company were faced with constraints that, to their credit, forced them to be creative.

The video essay below delves into how Ford and crew used their limitations to their advantage, creating a distinct style and form that served the story. From telephoto lenses and handheld photography that emphasizes the film’s distant, powerless mood to cinematography that puts more precedent on character than pricy spectacle, here’s a look at how Emily the Criminal does a lot with a little.

Watch “Emily The Criminal – Style & Form”

Who made this?

The above video essay on the style and form of Emily the Criminal is by throughline, a.k.a. Jonathan Hiller. Hiller has a storied career history, from a documentary filmmaker to a researcher in a neuroscience lab. But now, they are creating video essays on everything from music to movies. You can follow them on YouTube here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).