Disclosure is a confronting tale about two close couples whose friendships implode through the allegation that one of their children was sexually abused by the other.
All set in one location, Joel (Tom Wren) and Bek (Geraldine Hakewill) and their young son occasionally babysit the 4-year-old daughter of Emily (Matilda Ridgway) and Danny (Mark Leonard Winter). However, when a shocking incident occurs between the children that no one saw happen, the couple comes together to hash out the allegation.
Initially, the couples retain some semblance of civility, but it soon spirals out of control as personal and professional considerations mire discussions. For example, Joel is a politician seeking re-election, while Danny is a journalist co-authoring a book with Joel. Meanwhile, Emily is a documentary filmmaker whose long absences at home come under scrutiny, while Bek’s history influences her attitude toward events. The truth is hidden among the different perspectives, which is artfully explored by the film’s director in its opening act.
From the outset, the ordinary lives of young children are afforded seismic resonance as the slow-motion of kids on playgrounds and crossing roads dramatically inverts the audience’s perception of what children are capable of. In the following scene, ominous dread fills the mood as a busied parent is momentarily distracted from babysitting. As she takes phone calls and writes down notes, she paces in and out of the frame. The camera slowly backs away from the kitchen into the shadows of the house’s corridor, seemingly frightened of what will unfold.
After deafening screams from an unidentified child, she lazily opens the bedroom door and warns her 9-year-old son to “leave the little ones alone”, but returns to her business as quickly as she left it. Furthermore, as she opens the door to speak to her son, a silhouette of the boy emerges from the light cast across the hallway. This signal immediately suggests the nefarious intent of the boy that will cataclysmically change the lives of those involved. These opening few minutes perfectly illuminate broad societal issues through deft visual touches that permeate the entire film.
The premise functions entirely on the shifting dynamics of the four characters. Their individual power status is represented through the staging and shots of their initial conversation with each other. For example, Danny and Emily are swimming in their pool naked before Joel and Bek arrive unannounced through the back porch. The pool is installed on a lower level to the house, thereby placing Joel and Bek above their counterparts through low-angle shots that infer they are dominant and controlling.
Not only this, the embarrassed Danny and Emily are shot in high-angles as they scuttle to put clothes on, caught off-guard and vulnerable to the legal onslaught that will ensue. Even further, director Michael Bentham offers an immediate visual juxtaposition as the wives and husbands sit next to each other. Bek and Joel wear formal cocktail attire as they are about to attend a fundraiser, while Emily and Danny are scantily clad and wet.
Disclosure is slightly hindered by the constraints of a modest budget, as some production elements appear unpolished. For instance, the lighting of exterior scenes is vulnerable to weather as the background is often over-exposed, with the actors’ faces only clearly visible when shaded. Furthermore, moments of overlapping sound with props such as plates very briefly make dialogue hard to discern. Fortunately, these are very nit-picky complaints and rarely take away from the gripping tension of the film.
Bentham’s Disclosure gleans from the Rashomon effect whereby truth is cloaked by the moral obligations of child-to-child sexual abuse claims and reveals the fractious impact on parental and professional livelihoods.
Director Michael Bentham makes his feature film debut with Disclosure.