Rite Of The Shaman is a high school-set drama whose intention is to inspire. As such, writers director Alicia Oberle Farmer, John D. Farmer, Lauren Holdt, Albert Spencer-Wise, and Janice Spencer-Wise don’t aim for realism in the strictest sense. Instead, they want the plight of each character to feel authentic while still allowing hope and aspirational inspiration to thrive. Are they successful?
Kai (Tyrell Oberle) is an intelligent student with a real knack for science. In fact, his teacher Mr. Browning (James Morris), hopes he’ll enter the upcoming science fair. Kai tutors his best friend, Aspen (Lauren Holdt), as she’s having trouble understanding all of biology. Unfortunately, the boy’s life isn’t all good grades and hanging out. Kai’s mom is terminally ill and feels ready to give up. A few kids at school, including the unmotivated Bryan (Ethan Bracken), bully Kai as he is mute.
Sadly, Kai begins to feel overwhelmed by everything going on in his life and seeks to find his voice. To do this, Kai follows the voice of his grandfather, who tells him how to become a shaman, a hero, to himself and his family. Can Kai find his inner strength to meet the challenges he faces every day?
Rite Of The Shaman has a few issues, namely in introducing its rather vast roster of characters. In order for the ending to land properly, viewers need to understand the relationship between every person Kai interacts with. But sometimes, these folks just show up, and figuring out who they are takes some time. This is most evident in Bryan’s father, who just shows up randomly, yelling. Who he is not clear for much longer than intended, causing the beginning of his scene to be slightly confusing.
“…Kai begins to feel overwhelmed by everything going on in his life…”
But, aside from that, the film hits hard in all the right ways. Oberle is terrific as Kai, delivering a powerful and subtle performance. When he and Aspen fight, the actor sells his frustrations and sadness well. Holdt is also good, remaining likable even when the character makes some iffy choices. Kim Stone plays Wendy, and she’s very tender and sweet throughout the film.
From a directing standpoint, Oberle Farmer keeps the pace of Rite Of The Shaman moving right along. But this doesn’t imply that the film is overstuffed or doesn’t focus on what it needs to. Quite the opposite, in fact. But the narrative has a number of spinning plates, but each story has a satisfying arc, with all the subplots having a true point by the end.
Donovan Colton’s score is also quite good. Kai goes hiking quite often, and when he’s at his lowest, suffering from severe depression, the music amplifies the emotional truth of Kai’s journey quite wonderfully. In the end, when the inspirational feeling reaches its zenith, the music is right there, guiding audiences toward the appropriate feelings.
Rite Of The Shaman is an engaging, dramatic look at the obstacles life throws our way. Thanks to a strong leading performance from Oberle, even the most overused cliche feels well-earned. The music is spectacular, and the ending works in unexpected but effective ways.