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Film Review: While “Buoyancy” Eventually Becomes Routine, It Still Brings the Viewer on a Tense Adventure

Written by: Adam Vaughn | September 10th, 2020

Film poster: “Buoyancy”

Buoyancy (Rodd Rathjen, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars. 

Buoyancy is certainly an adventure, following the story of young Chakra (Sarm Heng in his debut role) as he is tricked into forced labor on a Southeast Asian fishing vessel. Chakra soon finds he is enslaved to do backbreaking labor for a ruthless captain and his vile crew. The film, from start to finish, remains absolutely honest and grounded in its storytelling, keeping a subtle but chilling portrayal of fishing labor and its harsh and intolerable conditions. Every character that comes and goes (and sad to say many characters do come and go in brutal ways) has an interesting persona, written with accuracy and believability that drives the narrative. Without the need of overly gruesome sequences, and utilizing an intricately woven sound design, Buoyancy relies on swift directing from Rodd Rathjen (also debuting as a feature-film director) to unveil its plot, creating tense and impactful moments between Chakra and the members of the crew.

At many times, the film maintains a strict attention to cinematography and editing, relaying a lot of gruesome plot points through implied storytelling and never revealing too much at once. For a movie that resonates with a real-life societal issue found in the world today, the film remains sensible, from the chillingly realistic way Chakra finds himself in his predicament, to a sensible and satisfying conclusion. There is a continuous sense of tragedy that envelopes the entire world of a Cambodian child whisked away from home, and invariably reminds us that we are seeing something real, witnessing humanity at its worst.

Sarm Heng in BUOYANCY ©Umbrella Entertainment

While it undoubtedly leaves the viewer in suspense, Buoyancy also tends to drag in pacing from time to time. Initially, the viewer gets a sense of “the calm before the storm,” as director Rathjen shows us Chakra’s life (ironically beginning with a less tortuous form of labor and hard work) before the plot moves forward. But as the stakes are raised, the urgency and tension start to waver, with no extraordinary turn of events and nothing truly surprising the viewer. While the story may occasionally lose its momentum in these areas, overall Buoyancy delivers an authentic and remarkable look at something that we as a world mustn’t ignore as a present-day social nightmare, the film closing with real-life statistics of fishing-boat slavery to remind us of this fact.


Adam Vaughn is a graduate of the Film & Moving Image program at Stevenson University, with a focus in Cinematography and Production. He also has a minor in Theater and Media Performance. Adam works as a freelance photographer and videographer, focusing his craft on creating compelling photographic and cinematic imagery. Adam is excited to join the Film Festival Today team and explore the world of cinema and visual arts.

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