Northern Shade, writer-director Christopher Rucinski’s feature-length debut, opens with a truck being set ablaze. A private investigator looking into it uncovers the truck’s registered owner, Army veteran Justin (Jesse Gavin). When the PI, Frankie (Titania Galiher), tells him what happened to the vehicle, the haunted, alcoholic man informs her that he sold it to his brother Charlie (Joseph Poliquin) a few months ago. That is when Justin learns this his younger brother is missing.
Upon hearing this information, Justin springs into action, determined to find his estranged sibling. His quest leads him to northern Connecticut, an area known to locals as the Quiet Corner. As the military man finds meaning again, the ghosts of his deceased Army brothers talk to him, helping him sort out certain facts in their talks. Eventually, Justin learns Charlie has taken up with a dangerous militia and vows to save him from them, even if it means certain death.
Rucinski wrote a solid story, and when Northern Shade remains focused on Justin, Frankie, and Charlie, it undeniably works. Gavin plays Justin’s violent outbursts with an underlying sense of melancholy that speaks volumes to what he saw and did in the Army. The character’s arc is also quite stirring, as he realizes just how dangerous a militia like the one his brother’s been indoctrinated into can be.
“…Justin springs into action, determined to find his estranged sibling.”
On a similar note, Frankie has a great little subplot of her own. She’s a former cop, and the slow revelation of why she left the force is heartbreaking and all too realistic. Galiher is quite good in the role, serving as something of a foil to Justin in that she never let what she saw totally break her. On top of all that, the look at how dangerous the “Proud Boys” and “Oath Keepers” truly can be is a great wake-up call to several viewers.
Unfortunately, Northern Shade throws in some awkward moments that don’t quite stick the landing. For example, when first getting to the small town near the militia’s compound, Justin visits the widow of a former Army man of his. They wind up sleeping together (sort of), and it just feels forced and awkward. Now, credit is due, as Rucinski never aims to titillate or exploit either actor, as there’s no nudity or anything. But, even still, it seems to come out of nowhere and ultimately proves to be a Big Lipped Alligator moment.
Also confusing is one of the opening lines. Justin is driving around and stops at a convenience store. There, he notices a couple in a different car. He gets the man’s attention, who rolls down his window down. Justin tells the man to never get deployed because “she will f**k your friends.” Bear in mind that the person he’s talking to is not in a military uniform of any kind. That the scene conveys that soldiers lose much more than usually talked about upon returning home is not lost, but it is a weird way to make that point.
Even with all that in mind, Northern Shade ultimately works. Rucinski keeps the whole thing moving swiftly while balancing the mystery of what happened to Charlie and characterizations pretty well. The final 20 or so minutes are perfect, with everything wrapping up the only way possible. So, even with its flaws, the film is a strong debut for the filmmaker, and he should be proud of what he’s accomplished.
To learn more about Northern Shade, check out its official Instagram account.
North Shade is premiering at the Phoenix Film Festival in April. Click here for the schedule.
"…a solid story...quite stirring..."