Back at the Staircase Image

Aunt Barbara fell down the stairs at a gathering of her extremely dysfunctional family, who all hate each other. They were preparing for a party for cousin Margaret in celebration of her arson case being declared a mistrial (as you do). Barbara got drunk at dinner and tumbled down the staircase. The film’s action takes place after they come back from the hospital where Barbara is in a coma, whereupon the family takes turns ferociously sniping at one another. This is Drew Britton’s Back at the Staircase.

“…style is reminiscent of David Mamet…”

In the opening, we are dumped mid-scene into the frenetic fray with no intro. A good opening brings the viewer gracefully into the story. Instead, any sane person would do everything possible to leave immediately.

Most of the dialog is composed of non-sequiturs and unfinished sentences. The style is reminiscent of David Mamet but falls far short of his writing skill. Fair play for trying, that’s a very high mark to shoot for. The lines come out like mini-monologues, it’s not clear the characters are always aware of each other.

The film looks like it was shot in a rental cabin. Too many mundane details visually distract from the “movie-ness” of the film: it plays more like a scripted reality show. Perhaps the discomfort comes from seeming too real. The characters are angsty narcissists who stress-talk too much, but it’s cousin Phillip who is most loquaciously and annoyingly out of his mind and tone deaf to social cues.

“…cousin Phillip who is loquaciously and annoyingly out of his mind…”

Think The Big Chill with no sympathetic characters or story you care about. This might translate better as a stage play. The script could also be re-worked as a Del Shores Southern comedy with over-the-top accents played for laughs. It does not work as a dramatic film.

Kudos for production quality, sound, and image, which are all quite good (not just for an Indie) but ultimately wasted on a dull and anxious film.

The credits roll over ambient sounds of the family moving around the house so even when you think it’s mercifully over you have four more minutes to hear what they are doing. By the end of the film, you will wish that each character had, in turn, flung him or herself down the staircase or that Margaret would burn the place down.

Back at the Staircase (2018). Directed by Drew Britton. Written by Drew Britton, Logan Lark. Starring Jennifer Lafleur, Mickey O’Hagan, Stephen Plunkett. Back at the Staircase played as part of the Beyond Feature competition at the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival.

3 out of 10

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