film

“Sword of Trust” Traverse City Film Fest Review (2019)

Written by Lynn Shelton and Michael Patrick O’Brien and directed by Shelton, “Sword of Trust” is a dramatic comedy that follows a mysterious Sword from the Civil War, and how it may in fact bear proof that the South had actually won the war. Marc Maron stars in the film as Mel, a wry but welcoming curmudgeon of sorts that runs a pawn shop in Alabama. He has one employee, Nathaniel (Jon Bass), a fool with a heart of gold who harbors a fascination for conspiracy theories propagated on the internet. We’re also introduced to Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and Mary (Michaela Watkins), a couple visiting town to manage Cynthia’s grandfather’s will and belongings. With the bank owning her grandfather’s house Cynthia is left only with a Civil War sword with several documents and a letter from her grandfather stating the sabre’s importance.

At first when the couple dare to enter Mel’s pawn shop, eager to rid themselves of their inherited relic of alternate history, they attempt to recoup their losses by feigning the sword’s legitimacy. This scene (and the film as a whole) between Mel and the couple attempting to prove the sword’s authenticity was a welcomed throwback to the character driven, dialogue heavy, indie flicks from the nineties. After some clever wordplay the four decide to seek out any true believers of the conspiracy willing to shell out enough cold hard cash for the blade. They encounter rival factions of southern men willing to get nasty over the conspiracy as they discover that a surprising amount of people believe in the flimsy facade, and are willing to get violent for “the truth“.

The emotional crux of the film, which was unexpected on my part, came from Maron’s Mel. When the foursome are hauled in the back of a trailer to the secret location of the family boss presiding over items of legitimacy from “The War of Northern Aggression“, they take the time to get to know each other. Cynthia and Mary recount their decision to chase their dreams before attempting to have and raise children, but it’s when they ask Mel about his life where he reflects on his musician-junkie days with Deirdre (in a small supporting role played by the director of the film, Lynn Shelton) where the film finds its humanistic core. The film’s identity relies, wisely, on the performances of its characters, and its in Marc Maron’s performance in the third act where all of the character’s intricacies and nuances are connected to a past of love, regret, hardened outlooks, and a weathered sense of realism that’s relatable and true to life. Maron, always ready with a pithy comeback, is anchored by a cast of skilled performers all working towards a well made dramatic comedy. “Sword of Trust” is a film that’s perfectly tailored for our post-truth paradigm, the fact that it manages to be equal parts clever and funny while maintaining a breezy hour and a half runtime is in itself a small cinematic miracle. Check it out!

Final Score: 40,000 dollars

film

“The Wretched” Traverse City Film Fest Review (2019)

Written and directed by Brett and Drew Pierce, “The Wretched” is a throwback horror film that uniquely finds a balance between old school practical effects and an unnerving new wrinkle to the folklore of Witches. This was the last film that I caught at the Traverse City film festival this year, and it turned out to be my favorite film of the fest! Oddly enough, I was in line for another film earlier during the week with friends and we struck up a conversation with a couple of guys behind us after hearing them name-drop “Big Trouble in Little China” and “The Thing” as a few of their favorite films. They happened to be filmmakers from Michigan, now out in L.A., and had a film at one of the later Midnight movies during the week. That film was “The Wretched” and my friends and I made the move to get tickets for that film because of that short conversation, and we were better off for having done so!

This review will be more vague than usual as the film has only been screened a few times for audiences at this point, and the less plot details out there, the better, in my opinion. We follow Ben (John-Paul Howard), a seventeen-year-old visiting his father, Liam (Jamison Jones), for the summer in North Port Michigan, on the Leelanau peninsula. Over the summer Ben works with his father at the local docks teaching kids how to sail and clearing out the slips. He’s mostly concerned with garnering the attention of the local girls and trashing the petulant bullies’ boat after some uncomfortable humiliation. However his attention is soon turned to his fathers’ odd neighbors and their increasingly strange behavior. Ty (Kevin Bigley) and Abbie (Zarah Mahler) seem normal at first, and initially they are, but after a wander in the woods with her son Dillon (Blane Crockarell), Abbie begins to take on more… aggressive tendencies. Eventually evoking “Rear Window” in Ben’s obsessive paranoia over his neighbors’ strange actions, Mallory (Piper Curda) a quirky co-worker at the docks, joins him in investigating the truth. Kids start disappearing and everyone except Ben seems to have forgotten them, forcing him to action.

Piper Curda and John-Paul Howard in “The Wretched”

This film excels on several technical fronts. Firstly, the adherence to practical effects over the use of CGI in this film is not only admirable, but downright mesmerizing. I’m not sure how they crafted some of their scares, but they were highly effective in creating an atmosphere of disgusting, moody, tension. Which, by the way, is utilized perfectly in this film. Some modern day horror films overdo the heightened levels of tension throughout their run-time, but this film wisely gives the audience a false sense of security at times; allowing several scenes to breathe and the audience to get attached to these characters as people first and foremost- not just fodder for the supernatural villain to devour. These characters were also, delightfully, more intelligent than expected, they’re smarter than your average teenager stereotype from any given slasher flick. One character even removed his shoes before heading up a staircase to find the source of a few bumps in the night. They seemed like reasonable people approaching an unreasonable scenario, no comic relief characters blindly blundering into danger here! Oh, and the sound design has to get a mention as well, it was unsettling and perfectly set each scene to a mood that slowly evolves from creepy to outright terror nearing the third act!

Zarah Mahler as Abbie in “The Wretched”

Speaking of the third act, it gets pretty intense! Not to oversell the film, but the choice to stack several types of phobias on top of each other in the final sequence was brilliant! Forcing your characters to keep charging forward through a continued escalation of terror like that was, well, it was a damn good time at the cinema. This was a satisfying throwback to old tropes with refreshing new techniques and execution. Anyone that enjoys films like “The Witch“, “Evil Dead” (The Sam Raimi version), or “Halloween” (The John Carpenter version) will probably enjoy this one as I did. I highly recommend seeking this one out once the film makes it’s way through the festival circuit and distribution process. Keep your eyes peeled for this one!

Final Score: 1 Witch

*Below is a link to an interview with one of the directors, Brett Pierce, where he discusses the reasoning behind why they decided to shoot the film in Northern Michigan, check it out!

https://www.northernexpress.com/news/feature/evil-dead-descendant-bros-brett-and-drew-pierce-bring-the-wretched-1/