Film Review: All is Vanity by Sara Darling

Are we all actually inherently vain?

I am very familiar with the scenario of the opening scene of All is Vanity- due to my twenties being spent in fashion, and I felt a familiar adrenalin buzz as the lead character, Sid Phoenix, playing a temperamental photographer, tests backgrounds and bosses his model-esque intern Yaseen Aroussi, before a big fashion shoot. Shot on a minimal budget, this is almost a feature, but falls short at just over an hour; but this is just enough time to get drawn into the plot within a plot, within a plot and the five main actors alternate in leading the show.

Phoenix is immediately overbearing, patronising and pretty unlikeable, while Aroussi plays the part of the victim in this power play very well, and these dynamics don’t change when the rest of the cast: accomplished and weary make-up artist, Rosie Steel and blase model, Isabelle Bonfrer arrive, as Phoenix continues to passive-aggressive slay his young protegee, resulting in an uncomfortable watch. However, Aroussi sees an ally in Steel, who is aloof but kind to him, and having worked with him before, tries to reassure Aroussi that it’s just his way.  The whole team is under the power of Phoenix, who has total control, so when Aroussi is sent to find something in the model’s bag and finds a gun, there is a big red flag that the story is going to take a sinister turn. 

Although the characters are believable enough, the shoot is a little staged, with plenty of bickering and blame as to why it’s not going too well. Deciding to call it a day, the team spent the night in the warehouse, but in the morning, the makeup artist mysteriously vanished. 

From here, the narrative gets a little wonky as we are introduced to a filmmaker, Christopher Sherwood, who was directing the photoshoot up to then as a movie, and the fact one of his  characters has disappeared is a curveball for him. Or is it? It’s not apparent as to whether we’re watching a thriller or a whodunnit. 

However, Steel’s disappearance is seemingly unexpected, so the plot thickens as to what is scripted and what is reality with the characters creating their own scenarios and speaking directly to camera as to how they should deal with the situation. The lines are blurred as the suggestions become more farcical and far fetched; hence it being billed as a comedy-fantasy, but actually it’s in a genre all of its own!

Directed by Marcos Mereles, we can’t ever be certain of how or why the makeup artist disappears and reappears, and there are lots of in-jokes and subtle references so it’s definitely worth a second watch. 

All is Vanity has a Digital Release date of 14th October 2022