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 has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.