Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Great Depressive: "Redland" (2011)

For the first half hour of this film, I seethed with anger. I was bored, drowsy, and pissed. I couldn't stand it. Eventually, I realized I couldn't stand what the film was doing to me, and continued to watch this cinematic dream.

Taking place during the Depression, a backwoods family is starving to death. Mary-Ann (Lucy Adden) has been carrying on an illicit (i.e. unmarried sexual) affair with local boy Charlie (Toben Seymour), meeting him in the woods. Lucy's father (Mark Aaron) catches wind of the situation (seeing Lucy going through some bloody womanly issues during the film's first few minutes), and begins questioning Lucy's brothers, older Job (Sean Thomas) and younger Paul (Kathan Fors) about any men coming around.

Out of desperation, Father, Job, and Charlie decide to head out on a long hunt to get food for the family, leaving behind Mary-Ann, Paul, and their mother (Bernadette Murray) to fend for themselves. Tensions rise between both sets of characters as Father eventually suspects Charlie of sleeping with his daughter (and everyone is carrying a hunting rifle), and the family back home resorts to eating a pet chicken, wild berries, and then some possibly poisonous mushrooms.

While a plot summary can be straightforward, this film is anything but. The director, Asiel Norton (who co-wrote this with the film's producer, Magdalena Zyzak), set out to shoot a cinematic dream, and succeeded. Thanks in large part to cinematographer Zoran Popovic, this film quickly gets inside your head and shakes things about. I would compare it favorably to the 1970's output of Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, or Terrence Malick. Every image looks like a hand-tinted old photograph come to life. The characters are covered in grime and dirt, suffering from starvation and rural boredom (a condition I have witnessed in my home state on many an occasion).

The film is frustrating. I didn't like the characters, couldn't quite make sense of things, and felt as isolated and out-of-sorts as the film's family. The sound design and music, both from T.K. Broderick, seemed determined to increase my unease...which they did. Just as in real life, dialogue is understood in snippets. I realized Norton was taking a mere snapshot of life in these creepy woods (which become a character as well), and the viewer may begin questioning the entire hero/villain, good/evil paradigm as they witness these people do what they must to survive. Just like "The Passion of the Christ" or "Saving Private Ryan," this is not a popcorn munching flick, constantly interrupted by trips to the bathroom or cell phone calls. This film doesn't simply ask you "what would you do in this situation?," Norton's direction puts you in the situation shown, where simple answers to stock characters' dilemmas are difficult to come by. There is one sequence near the end of the film, you will know it when you see it, that is so heart breaking and so repulsive at the same time, I had problems watching it, yet Norton keeps your eyes on the screen, witnessing the horror.

The cast is so good, I cannot believe they were acting. I kept wondering if every shot of the film was planned, or did Norton and his crew happen upon some impressive footage they were able to utilize during editing? Either way, your eyes will dart all over the screen, trying to take every shaded detail in.

"Redland" is difficult. You won't want to go running down to the nearest coffee joint afterward to gab about it, it will stay with you, asking you the very same questions it asks of its characters. In this computer generated day and age, it's a throwback to intelligent film making, and it's brilliant. (* * * * *) out of five stars.