Meryl (Justine Clarke) is returning home on the train after attending her father's funeral, and the loss has made her feel the presence of death all the more keenly. As she leaves the train and walks back, her thoughts are full of the many ways that she could die: near the railway bridge overhead, the train could derail and fall on her, she could be run over by a car while crossing the road, that man playing with his dog could advance on her and strangle her. As it happens, there has been a train derailment and many people have been killed; this would normally be of concern to newspaper photographer Nick (William McInnes), but he has received bad news from his doctor after a routine check up. Nick has testicular cancer, and it's spreading. Will he live? He doesn't know, as after all, everyone goes eventually.
That gloomy thought sums up most of Look Both Ways, and if a film could be encapsulated in a single sound, this would be a sigh. The feature length, live action debut by animator Sarah Watt, who also scripted, it's to the story's advantage that the characters are immediately sympathetic: seeing as how this is a slice of life then we may as well be interested in them, even if the Grim Reaper is looming over them, or at least that's the way it feels. Not everyone here is obsessed with their own impending demise, but amongst this ensemble it's Nick and Meryl's stories that have the most influence on the mood. Of course, Meryl is not about to die any time soon, yet is preoccupied with the feeling that she is, and this is brought out in her paintings, which along with beach scenes also consist of little people being circled or eaten by sharks.
However, Meryl may well be in shock, not only because of her father dying, but because she is the sole witness to a fatal accident. The man playing with his dog is hit by a train, and she is interviewed at the scene by both the police and journalist Andy (Anthony Hayes), who has brought Nick along with him, not knowing of his condition yet. Nick takes a photograph of the dead man's girlfriend, a picture that ends up on the front page after being selected by editor Phil (Andrew S. Gilbert) who has been shaken by Nick's news and resolved to give up smoking. Nick was on his way home anyway, and happens to be going in the same direction as Meryl, so they get to chatting, in an awkward kind of way. So begins a relationship that blossoms over the course of a particularly hot weekend, leading to love, sex and Meryl meeting Nick's mother.
Yet what he doesn't tell her is how ill he is, and death, the running theme, hangs heavily over the film, as if to say what's the point in enjoying yourself if none of it is permanent? Not that the other characters are having a great time, with Andy's girlfriend Anna (Lisa Flanagan) informing him she's pregnant and neither being delighted with the news, Andy already having a family with his divorced wife and Anna simply not feeling ready to bring a child into the world. Another man we see has been deeply affected by the train accident, although we don't find out his connection with the others until the end, and they're all connected in a Magnolia kind of way - Watt even has a penchant for playing songs over montages of her characters moping about. Look Both Ways has its own quirks, however, such as Meryl's visions of disaster, like the ground opening up and swallowing her, depicted through animation. After all this bittersweet melancholy, you'll be relieved to hear that the final conclusion is that the very lack of permanence is the reason to savour all that's good in life, which is kind of thrown away at the end in an almost embarrassed way, but that's part of the charm. Music by Amanda Brown.