Wednesday, 5 February 2014

THE DISAPPEARED - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Rub-a-dub-dub, Six Men in a Tub - Canuck Newfies Survive at Sea

The Disappeared (2013) **1/2
Dir. Shandi Mitchell
Starring: Brian Downey, Gary Levert, Neil Matheson, Billy Campbell, Shawn Doyle, Ryan Doucette

Review By Greg Klymkiw

The usual low budget Canadian film these days is a thriller in a cabin in the woods with psychological terror in place of supernatural horror requiring major special makeup and visual effects. Most of these pictures end up being deathly dull, so I'm somewhat grateful to writer-director Shandi Mitchell for delivering a low budget Canuck picture that veers away from the usual and provides a simple tale of survival in the middle of nowhere.

Six Newfie fishermen wake up on two small boats tethered together after their trawler has apparently gone down the night before. They're floating about the North Atlantic with limited food and water plus harbouring the imprecise knowledge that land is probably a few hundred miles away. They have faith in their stalwart captain, but all of them realize they're in a sticky wicket. A few of the men harbour conflicts and resentments - one of them is a religious nut, his son is at odds with him, another man has contempt for the God-fearing sailor, and yet another is badly hurt and suffering from an infection that requires immediate treatment and/or amputation - whichever can come first to ensure survival.

Rationing becomes the order of the day and given the dynamics of the characters this causes more than a few added tensions. Finally, there is an overwhelming sense of despair and desperation that take over and the film makes bold and valiant attempts to both generate drama outside of the usual box of such survival tales as well as create a natural and realist atmosphere. The result, however, is that the picture has far more than its fair share of longueurs - some of which seems absolutely necessary, but ultimately require stronger elements to allow the audience an opportunity to coast along in a more contemplative manner - one which is more active in terms of the process of engaging in the storytelling rather than being perched just outside of it.

It is admirable that the picture tries to avoid diving into more obvious, exploitative elements that might have goosed things along if, in fact, the intent was to add a layer of the suspense or thriller genres to the proceedings, but as this is clearly not the intent (a la, say Hitchcock's Lifeboat), the movie does lack more substantive philosophical elements that might have plunged it more successfully into a contemplative mode that would have been integral to the dynamics of moving the story ever-forward. Alas, this never quite holds successfully and instead of allowing the film to inspire rumination that's directly relative to the action at hand, an audience is potentially at the disadvantage of moving their thoughts to everything but that which, is on-screen.

Luckily, the film looks great and there's a successful sense of using wide, open space to generate an atmosphere of claustrophobia - certainly not an easy thing to achieve and one that places the film a lot closer to the more mysterious qualities inherent in the early works of Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock) and Nicolas Roeg (Walkabout). The problem, though, is that Mitchell's film attempts to do this, but ultimately falls short since the narrative does not go out of its way to add a layer of mystery to do it. One can see and even admire, somewhat, the attempt, but at the same time, one also yearns for the film to move more strongly in this direction.

That said, a part of me used some of the picture's longueurs to start imagining the potential of Deliverance-styled Pitcairn Island-ish inbred rednecks floating by to mete out some sodomy or Battleship-styled aliens or even some tribe of stereotypical voodoo worshipping aboriginal savages from Greenland with bones through their nostrils not unlike the natives depicted in Peter Jackson's Skull Island portions of his insane King Kong remake. But hey, that's just me. I won't speak for the thoughts cascading through the minds of others during the aforementioned longueurs.

Another bit of weirdness that can be seen as either a blessing or a curse, is that it's nigh-impossible to completely nail down a proper period for this film. Granted, there's an admirable quality inherent in the tale's attempts to be universal, but it's also one of the more flawed elements that occasionally take us out of the story. When one is making a film with such a deliberate pace, that's the last thing one needs.

The performances are all fine and given that the screenplay doles out elements of character and backstory in subtle ways, the actors all do an excellent job at conveying who they are in relation to the events of their predicament. As such, mystery, danger and malevolence take a somewhat surprising and rather huge backseat to the story's beats. Finally, no matter that the film's intent, or aim, is "true", it yields an experience that just isn't as harrowing as it needs to be. Though the film feels worthy, it does so in a way the betrays its rather earnest Canadian approach. Too much is hinted at, but sometimes, one just needs to call a spade a spade in order to generate a film that creates a more solid forward thrust.

"The Disappeared" is in limited theatrical release across Canada and it's next playmate is at the Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque on Fri Feb 7, 2014 at 9:00 PM, Sat Feb 8, 2014 at 7:00 PM, Sun Feb 9, 2014 at 7:00 PM and Wed Feb 12, 2014 at 7:00 PM. For further information, please visit the WFG website HERE.