When I saw David Lowery’s flat out brilliant short film, “A Catalog of Anticipations,” I couldn’t believe how much mystery and fantasy blended with thoughts of my childhood he conjured up in a mere five minutes. As I settled into my seat for his follow-up, a feature enigmatically titled “St. Nick,” I hoped I was in for something just as magical as Lowery’s short. By the time the lights came up nearly 90 minutes later, I was thrilled to see he had done it again.
“St. Nick” is the story of two unnamed kids on the lam from their parents. And while we don’t know why they’re running away or even what exactly is going on, that’s completely the point as the film is more about mood and tone with story as a backdrop. Yet once again as in his short-film, I was transported back to my days as an adventure starved youth who wanted nothing more than to run away and ride trains with hobos or some such thing. I’d pack a bag and steal some food and set out only to come racing home the second I hit an unfamiliar block in my town or shadows grew long. But the kids in “St. Nick” aren’t looking back and they find living alone as pre-teens ain’t easy.
Lowery sets the mood early on as the young boy scouts out an apparently abandoned house the siblings can squat in. The camera ponders upon woody, earthy tones as sunlight splashes across streaks of light coming in through filthy windows. Dust and dirt should have been given credited roles in this film. Subtle camera moves give the boy room to roam as he makes sure the house is safe. When it is deemed livable (by whatever standards a ten-something boy goes by) he grabs his sleeping sister and they move right in.
“St. Nick” is fairly unabashedly influenced by the quiet, contemplative work of Terrence Malick but I also detected a nice homage to one of my favorite films of all-time, “Night of the Hunter.” To me “St. Nick” felt like all the stuff we don’t see in Charles Laughton’s masterpiece parable of two young kids on the run from a sadistic wolf in sheep’s clothing, an evil preacher played by Robert Mitchum. While again, we don’t know what set the kids off on this journey, we slowly discover they are in no hurry to return home. In as much as “Night of the Hunter” focused on the children’s journey down a winding river, “St. Nick” could be seen as all the stuff that happened when they went ashore.
Through all the subtlety on display in “St. Nick,” once again it ‘s Lowery’s ability to put something onscreen that opened up my childhood in my mind that blew me away. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but in the films quieter moments (and there’s more than a few) I found my mind drifting back to forts and clubhouses I had as a child that I hadn’t even thought of in better than ten years. While my adventures as a kid never even came close to what the kids in “St. Nick” go through, I still found myself actively watching the movie while at the same time remembering my youth. It was a unique experience to say the least.
I will say, if you aren’t a fan of slower films, you will not appreciate “St. Nick.” This isn’t some slam bam “kid’s on the run!” movie, it’s mellow and beautiful. But if you have the patience to sit back and let a film slowly wash over you and pull you in, you’ll be blown away by the amazing “St. Nick.”