A Safe Distance is a feminist slow-burn thriller about an idyllic camping trip that goes wrong when a woman rejects her boyfriend’s marriage proposal and is abandoned in the remote British Columbia wilderness. She relies on help from a young couple to make it back home safely, but becomes uncomfortably tangled in their toxic relationship. The film explores the twisted flaws of heterosexual relationships against the backdrop of the BC wilderness. The tone and aesthetics of this film are heavily inspired by Kelly Reichardt, and in particular her 2006 feature film, Old Joy — the story of two men who venture into the woods together. Reichardt imbues this journey with anxiety, forged by the chaos of the forest and the expectation that something is going to happen between these two men.

Like Reichardt’s approach in making Old Joy, I want to emphasize the tumult of the  environment around our three lead characters, Alex, Kianna, and Matt. I want to inject A Safe Distance with Alex’s anxiety, so that the viewer not only sees Alex’s struggle to reconcile with a quarter-life crisis and the loss of her longtime relationship, but feels her discomfort being trapped in a forest that seems to close in around her. Through this ordeal, her new friendship with Kianna is her respite. The more each woman learns about the other, the more they understand the concessions made in their own relationships, and how they are glossing over their own unhappiness. This experience is messy, and the two butt heads, but ultimately they are bound together by the violent conclusion of their journey.

This film was inspired by the recent shifting mainstream perceptions of consent and abuse, and by my own experiences dealing with manipulation and emotional abuse from romantic partnerships.  Many women, myself included, have formative experiences that shape their idea of what a “normal” relationship looks like. My experiences are echoed in Kianna and Alex; Kianna is beginning her first serious relationship, Alex is suffering the consequences of hers. Alex’s rejection of the comfortable but unfulfilling status quo mirrors the expectations placed on women my age. I see my young, impressionable self in Kianna being drawn to a much older boyfriend who manipulates and denigrates her. In both of them, I see my prickliness and reluctance to open up that stems from a deep lack of self-esteem. In A Safe Distance I will interrogate how seemingly innocuous relationships often harm women, and how these experiences can shape women’s self-image and self-worth.

Gloria Mercer