Corey Aumiller began “On the Lam” as a short student film before expanding it into a $5,500 feature-length production. Not surprisingly, the film offers the vices and virtues common to no-budget first-time filmmakers. Fortunately, the virtues outweigh the vices.
“On the Lam” takes place in a none-too-distant future where the U.S. government revives the military draft after declaring war on Iran. A pair of young men who are ripe for conscription – a construction worker and a would-be photographer – abruptly plan to go underground as a means of avoiding mandatory military service. With the U.S.-Canada border sealed off, they escape to the American Southwest desert and live off the land for seven months. However, their plans begin to go awry when other like-minded draft dodgers show up, and a decision to briefly return to the civilized world becomes a lethal mistake.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first – the film’s screenplay is not completely polished (it is unclear just how the duo are able to survive in the desert for so long, especially without getting a suntan) and there are aspects of the production that betray the lack of serious financial backing (particularly a sequence at a conspicuously underpopulated boot camp). And there are a number of young bit players that – judging by their stiffness on camera – were clearly cast because they were friends of the filmmaker.
But the good news is what matters here. “On the Lam” is a strikingly original concept that calls into question a wealth of political and social issues. The ghosts of the Vietnam era and the still-taboo questioning of the occupation of Iraq haunt the film, and it is not difficult to see this film spur a serious debate on American military policy.
From a production standpoint, Aumiller does a bravura job as both director and cinematographer. His leading men – newcomers Aaron Syler and Greg Kissner – bring uncommon depth to their roles. Their performances are beautifully measured and run a rich emotional gamut, and the strength of their work makes the film’s conclusion all the more powerful. (No spoilers here, but you won’t expect the denouement.) Also worthy of praise is Dane Terry’s musical score – it is inventive, subtle and a perfect acoustic mirror to Aumiller’s presentation.
“On the Lam” is a very interesting film debut, and let’s hope Aumiller and his collaborators return for more original and provocative work.