This big Vancouver feature carries the weight of cinematographer Bob Aschmann (“Rollercoaster”) and editor Reg Harkema (“Hard Core Logo”) behind it, so there’s no surprise that it’s slick, competent and cinematic.
The story follows the shaky downslide of Derek (Michæl Riley), who can’t accept his wife’s rejection or being separated from his young son, so he kidnaps the boy and takes him on a crazy road trip through the wilderness to escape society.
Riley does a good job here, though the chemistry between him and his son, which makes up the major part of the film, seems a little lacklustre. It’s hard to say, sometimes, why things happen the way they do – why, for instance, the boy doesn’t freak out, cry, or run away more often, when his dad starts slipping off the deep end. Also unclear is why his wife doesn’t call the police on several occasions, leaving the plot open for more frightening stalking. And I guess the home video footage, meant to set up the backstory of the relationship, is a little cheezy too, sometimes. And come to think of it, Riley seems like he’s in a Quebecois beer commercial at times, with his wild eyes and muddled expression.
But Riley’s energy seems to carry through the whole thing; his desperate earnestness never lets up, rolling over bumpy script moments and leaping across credibility gaps. He slowly simmers from self-loathing towards rage as frustration after frustration foils him; his climactic explosion contains real human rage and fear.
The film is certainly on a technical par with most commercial productions, and in fact the central issue is a more bold concern than Hollywood would ever tackle this seriously (which isn’t tremendously serious, though). The story has been written carefully to minimize spectacular demands, so when the boy takes the car on a short escape joyride, the tension is quite real. However, by-the-book story structure and safe drama seem like desperate pleading for international distribution.
Then again, the sex scene in the middle, where the couple nearly gets back together momentarily, was dramatic enough to make my mother, sitting beside me, harumph aloud with conservatism – twice.
This seems, however, to be a major flaw with most Canadian government-driven commercial filmmaking: more real than Hollywood, bigger-budget than the underground, less commercial than Indiewood, but somehow more pointless than any of them.