Props to filmmaker Jon Cvack for going for broke. In Road to the Well, an ostensibly by-the-book murder mystery, the writer/producer/director blends comedy, drama, and even dashes of horror, applying philosophical brush strokes to the proceedings. It’s an unusual, daring little piece that reformats familiar elements eloquently enough to make one overlook its lo-fi trappings and warrant a recommendation.
Jack (Micah Parker), a wandering free-spirit, visits his old friend Frank (Laurence Fuller), whose vacuous job is only one aspect of his empty life. They catch up, shoot the sh*t, and then, almost miraculously, Frank meets a beautiful girl and hooks up with her in the back of his car. Next thing Frank knows, he’s been knocked out, and the girl killed and stuffed into his trunk. Jack steps in to help out.
They clean up the car, Pulp Fiction-style, then journey to the Northern California Sierra to bury the body (coincidentally, Frank’s job takes him there anyway). Along the way, they make pit stops and encounter quirky characters – as you would, of course, when you have a rotting corpse in the back of your car.
“Next thing Frank knows, he’s been knocked out, and the girl killed and stuffed into his trunk.”
It feels like Cvack was going for a Coen-esque vibe here, and sadly, Road to the Well doesn’t quite match their debut, Blood Simple, in terms of sheer filmmaking confidence. That said, once the film kicks into high gear, it becomes highly involving. This happens at about the halfway point, during its most intriguing set-piece: an encounter with a retired army officer, Dale (Marshall R. Teague), a whack-job who gives our two (anti)heroes an insane ultimatum. The entire movie could’ve revolved around these three characters and would’ve been better off for it. Teague proves a surprisingly mesmerizing screen presence, both chewing the scenery and imbuing it with real gravitas (Tarantino, take note).
Cvack has an eye for shot composition. In an early scene, as cinematographer Tim Davis’ camera pans back, different characters are revealed in an office, and layers of drama are subtly built up. Cvack has a knack for both framing claustrophobic shots in confined spaces and capturing majestic scenery. He also knows his way around dialogue: there’s a chuckle-inducing argument about cutting up the body; a memorable visit to a bigoted hillbilly; and that somber finale, where little is said but much insinuated.
Road to the Well isn’t devoid of clichés and other minor blemishes. There’s some dodgy editing. It stumbles in momentum due to its episodic structure. Some scenes are sharp, while others meander. The ponderings of faith and whether there is “anything out there” fall flat. Still, Cvack elicits two intriguing, off-kilter performances in what can only be described as a pseudo-neo-noir-comedy. This unconventional approach to conventional material pays off. Go ahead and take a stroll down this road.
"…this unconventional approach to conventional material pays off."