These men are not who they say they are. Their intention is ungodly.
This film takes place in the 1970s (mostly) and is a slice of Southern Gothic melodrama. A young teenaged girl, played by Samantha Isler, is deep in grief after the tragic death of her older brother. Then three strange backwoodsmen blow into town; they claim to have a special gift: they claim they can raise the dead. Great premise, but unfortunately the film doesn’t really work. There are some good things here. Most notable is veteran character actor Ted Levine in a substantial part as Isler’s grandfather, the local sheriff; at first, it might seem like he’s phoning in one of his typical “grizzled & mumbly” performances, but as the film unfolds his performance ends up being really wonderful. As the movie rolls on, we find out there are strange connections here to a secret from Levine’s past, from the 1940s, and Adams really pulls off the transitions between 40s & 70s to perfection. Old Levine, for instance, is at one point sitting at the counter in a drugstore when he hears the door open behind him; he turns and the camera pans to the door and it’s a character from the section of the story set in the 40s and the camera pans back and it’s young Levine at the counter now. Later, young Levine approaches a door in a cabin and slowly starts to push it open as it swings open, the camera reverses and it’s old Levine standing there. I’m not really expressing how artful these are; they’re a real highlight, especially because the 40s sequences also have a sepia tone to them, so these transitions require a gradual change of color as well. But the film is hamstrung in a lot of ways. The film, even at a lean ninety minutes, has doldrums; Adams wants to build atmosphere, but he isn’t really ever able to do it. And aside from Levine, the cast is fair at best, terrible at worst. Isler is pretty wooden; I knew I’d seen her somewhere before and it turns out she was in my cinematic nemesis Captain Fantastic. Regardless, she’s not good. Particularly awful is Troy Ruptash as the leader of the backwoodsmen. Late in the film, the script tries to make him more complicated than just an evil villain and there’s a surprising scene between him and Levine that might have been very effective if Ruptash wasn’t so bad. He can leer and that’s about it; I appreciated the development of the villain quite a bit, but with Ruptash in the role, it just didn’t come off. It’s a shame I can’t recommend this. Adams, as writer & director, clearly is not bereft of ideas. The plot is, if somewhat predictable, good and there are a few surprises, though the ending makes no sense. Regardless, I’ll be interested to see what Adams does next; there’s a lot of potential here and the failures are mostly of execution, not of idea. 2 stars.
tl;dr – great turn by Levine, a good premise & some nice visuals can’t save this unfortunate rural noir; too bad – Adams has ideas, but bad performances & poor choices sink this one. 2 stars.