By Alex Beach of Fairfax High School

Perhaps life’s most overwhelming and unfathomable mystery is “what happens after we die?” Loudoun Valley High School’s students took a comedic approach to answering this question in their student-written and produced short film, Unstable Connections. 

Inspired by student’s experiences in quarantine, this film told the story of seven strangers who found themselves in a “Zoom Purgatory” after their deaths. They went through a series of tests, conducted by the faceless Moderator (Will McCann), to determine their eternal resting places. Along their journey, the seven came into contact with various characters, including a ghost, a genie, and a salesman, who made bargains that, unbeknownst to the dead, will determine their fate.

Unstable Connections showcased a variety of incredibly talented students, both in the acting and technical fields. In the opening sequence, a series of featured artwork, created by students Lilly Swann, Kenny Bills, and V. Cam Reyes, was underscored by a beautiful piece of music composed by Des Sequeira. Viewers later come to realize that each piece of artwork alludes to the cause of death of each of the seven humans, setting the stage for what is to come and adding layers of complexity to the storyline that exceed that of a typical high school production. 

All seven actors who played the dead did an outstanding job of creating unique, memorable characters, despite the fact they were distinguished only by number. Claire Trochlil, playing #1, a figure who had been trapped in Zoom Purgatory awaiting the arrival of her significant other, brought vulnerability and commitment to her performance, allowing for viewers to form a strong connection. Francesca Fiorello as #2 and Keira Anderson as #3, who played polar opposites, demonstrated remarkable presence, chemistry, and comedic timing even over a virtual platform. Other standout performances came from Declan Wood in the role of The Salesman and Delaney Herr as The Ghost. Although Wood’s character required a flashy smile plastered to his face, his ability to convey his character’s true intentions was not hindered in the slightest. His comfortability within his role revealed subtleties that made his performance more realistic and well-rounded. Herr’s characterization gave the entire production an ominous and urgent tone as she pleaded with the humans to avoid falling for the Moderator’s tricks.

This performance would not have been complete without the amazing technical contributions and post-production finishes. The costume and lighting designers (Delaney Herr, Cameron Roberts, Alex Chinn, and V. Cam Reyes) worked with actors to produce lighting effects and select costumes that enhanced particular attributes of characters. Most notable was the blue-toned under-lighting for the scene with The Ghost, which helped to create an eerie and ghastly effect. Sound designer Angel Vasquez’s attention to detail was exceptional, creating a comedic and immersive experience by including effects such as the bleeping of curse words and a static effect when the dead attempted to exit the Zoom call. All in all, each technical element was well thought out and cleanly produced, making for an incredible viewing experience. 

In only a half hour, Loudoun Valley High School was able to engross viewers in a fun, compelling plotline complemented by energetic actors and a committed tech crew. The overarching themes of human selfishness and consequences presented throughout the film made it a complex, yet lighthearted and unforgettable quarantine tale.

Watch it here. 

[This review is part of a series published in a partnership between Loudoun Now and  The Cappies, a writing and awards program that trains high school theater and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders.]