A rural couple hides a dark secret until a stranger infiltrates their lives and offers a way out.
The cold open is a device used so often in modern cinema that its power is often overlooked or misused. Here we begin with a pair of hikers. Tired, dehydrated, they wander the forest and suddenly happen upon a woman carrying a jug (Lydia Wilson). They’ve been wandering for days and ask for help, direction, or anything that will lead them to civilization. She offers shelter and leads them to her home. As they approach the homestead a truck barrels toward them. Adam (Nick Blood) bolts out of the truck and holds them at gunpoint. Territorial, Adam forces the two lost hikers into the truck and motors back to the homestead as the woman watches.
Who is this couple out in the middle of the forest? What are they hiding that would warrant the kidnapping and possible murder of two strangers? What was in the jug that the woman was carrying? As an audience, we are intrigued and want to know the answers to questions that hold our interest. This is how you open a film. Still, written and directed by Takashi Doscher, is a slow-burn mystery that not only holds our attention, but it actually makes us care about the characters.
“What are they hiding that would warrant the kidnapping and possible murder of two strangers?”
After an informative title sequence, we are introduced to Lily (Madeline Brewer). A young woman from a bad home, she is doing everything in her power to survive cancer that is ravaging her body. It’s too bad that she wanders upon the same encampment as the previous hikers. Or is it?
The two at the homestead initially treat Lily with disdain, as if she is the carrier of the modern plague. Soon enough she is accepted, assimilated even. The delicate script gives us only as much information as is necessary and we are left to wonder. Why has this backwoods couple accepted her and what are they guarding?
Of course, we get our answers. Deftly the story pulls back and we learn the history of this backwoods bungalow, its inhabitants, and why it is revered, before bounding back into the original narrative. A brave move in structure from Doscher, but perhaps the most effective way to tell the story.
“…this is a story of secrecy, trust, and mortality that is beautifully executed and wonderfully acted.”
Without question, the three leads are remarkable. Wilson, Brewer, and Blood give us what we need for an effective story. I will clock Wilson on her inconsistent dialect but will defer to further viewings to resolve the matter. If we were to call it, this is easily Brewer’s tour de force with writer-director Takashi Doscher supplying her with the material and support she needs to knock it out of the park.
Tech specs on the film are all average to above par. A particular shot from DP Philip Wages is particularly haunting if inconsequential as the brown structures of the trees stand in stark contrast against the verdant background of sun-dappled leaves. Props also, to the believable production design by Jennifer Chandler and art direction from Victoria Coffee. We are told, visually, a believable story that is fantastic, without crossing into fantasy or camp.
Still is not a pulse-pounding thriller. It is not a visceral, nail-biting actioner. No, this is a story of secrecy, trust, and mortality that is beautifully executed and wonderfully acted. Slow down, lower the lights, and savor this quiet, thought-provoking film.
Still (2018) Written and directed by Takashi Doscher. Starring Madeline Brewer, Lydia Wilson, Nick Blood.
7 out of 10 stars