Stillwater

A weekend camping trip among six old friends in Northern Minnesota’s “Boundary Waters” turns tragic after one dies under mysterious circumstances, triggering further turmoil as they attempt to unmask the killer within their own group.

Willie (Paul Elia) sits in an interrogation room contemplating what could arguably be the worst camping trip of his life. Come to think of it what ends in an interrogation room that is good? I digress. What was supposed to be a nostalgic getaway with childhood friends Dawson (Tyler Ritter), Leech (Eric Michael Roy), Cooper (Ryan Vincent) Jack (Travis Quentin Young), and Richie (Nino Aldi) turned deadly after a drug-fueled campfire session. With four bodies, fluid loyalties, and no reasonable explanation of who-killed-whom, the two officers trying to get to the bottom of things have but to ask Willie one more time what happened. Stillwater is a new thriller from writer-director Nino Aldi and screenwriter Joseph Rein that was a refreshing, original whodunnit that had me guessing right up to the closing credits.

“…four bodies, fluid loyalties, and no reasonable explanation of who-killed-whom…”

As previously mentioned, Willie recounts to the police how he and his friends went camping at their old childhood campgrounds. Each has grown to be very different individuals with a range of lifestyles. In the mix, we have a podiatrist, a combat veteran, a successful TV star, a businessman, a family man, and a party guy. The six settle into their old patterns and get ready to party when three unexpected guests of Leech appear. Fauna (Carlena Britch), Vera (Georgie Guinane) and guy called The Wizard. (Mike Foy). Initially rejected, the three black-clad individuals are soon absorbed into the tribe when they offer a stash of party drugs.

One thing leads to another, the campfire is raging, and all slink off to their tents. That’s when one of the six is found dead in the woods with a gash to the head. With everyone blacked out, three new suspects, and a panoply of motives, everyone is a suspect.

Aldi and Rein have crafted a fiendishly clever mystery that engages from start to finish. We have our sympathetic survivor, wonderfully played by Elia, who has been through the wringer. We have the usual red herrings that we know are red herrings. Then we have clever twists and turns that all but push credulity as we hope for an explanation.

“…a fiendishly clever mystery that engages from start to finish.”

The technical aspects here are sufficient with acceptable work from John Orphan on the lensing. Vanessa Doan’s costume design does its job informing us of the lives of the characters in particularly subdued choices, yet things get pushed a little too hard on the people we are to know are “bad”. Bill Appleberry’s score feels like a misused tool. The composition is fine, but it feels as if it could have been pulled back slightly by Aldi in some moments.

Despite minor misgivings, Stillwater is a crackling mystery and a fun story to dive into. A pulpy mystery that has way too good of a time toying with expectations, then flipping them on their backs, only to spin them like a helpless turtle in a shell. I was able to forget the current state of affairs if for 90 minutes and sink my teeth into the simple pleasures of a topsy-turvy mystery. For that I am grateful.

Stillwater (2018)  Written and directed by Nino Aldi. Starring Paul Elia, Carlena Britch, Tyler Ritter, Eric Michael Roy, Travis Quentin Young, Georgie Guinane, Anthony Jensen, Mike Foy, Katie Wallack, Ryan Vincent, Nino Aldi.

7 out of 10 stars

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