Gain (2021) – Film Review


Gain, the second collaboration between writer/actor Daniel Stisen and director Nick Wall, follows a gym-junkie whose pre-occupation with building up his muscles threatens to tear his life apart.

Living in near-squalor but pumping money into his body, this is a warts-and-all depiction of Davie’s life as a bodybuilding addict. His obsession is all-consuming; dictating what he watches, how he eats and the dealers he associates with. But the glory found in bodybuilding only belongs to others, namely the former champions he watches online and those who hang photographed on his wall. Instead, Davie’s always on the back foot, wrestling with his doubts and not knowing when to say enough is enough.

It’s not all protein shakes and pumping iron though. There’s an awkward humour to be found in watching Davie (Stisen) trying to take the perfect selfie, but having to shave his stomach, inject himself in the bum cheek and smash out some press-ups before he finally gets a shot that he’s happy with. It’s all the more awkward as there’s no doubt many of us have done something similar. It’s ok – we’re all friends here.

Gain Paula and Davie

In a similar way to Retribution, their previous collaboration, Nick Wall knows when to show you something unflinching and when to divert your gaze. Most striking is the scene where Davie and his long-suffering girlfriend, Paula (Péline Liberty), share dinner together. The claustrophobic close ups make the viewer feel oddly intimate with each character but accentuates the disconnect that exists between the pair.

Rather than being soaked in sweat, Gain is painstakingly poignant and it gives Stisen the opportunity to show he’s much more than an action man. The honesty and hope that Davie demonstrates to his online followers via video message is something that he’s incapable of sharing with Paula. Much like The Wrestler, you know there’s not much chance of a happy ending for anyone involved.

It’s interesting to think what could have been with a longer runtime. Clocking in at just over 25 minutes, there’s no room to really round out the characters, leaving Davie feeling somewhat shallow and Paula left by the sidelines. Which, arguably, could have been the intention all along.

Whichever way you look at it, as a standalone short, Gain is a showcase of what Stisen and Wall can do and we’re pumped to see what they come up with next.

Gain is available to watch at the link below.

WRITER/DIRECTOR: Daniel Stisen and James Keating/Nick Wall
STARS: Daniel Stisen, Péline Liberty, Mark Epstein, James Merrill
RUNTIME: 25 Minutes

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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