Greetings again from the darkness. It was one month to the day since the shocking news that Bill Paxton had died when I sat down to watch one of his final two movies (the other being The Circle, which hits theatres in a few weeks). His searing performance in this low-budget drama made me realize just what a gaping hole he leaves in the film world … and how fitting that his character is the antithesis of Paxton’s real world nice guy persona.
Director Nathan Morlando opens with a shot of a peaceful stroll through rural prairie land, providing no indication of the quietly intense misery that is coming. Jonas (Josh Wiggins) is a teenage boy working daily on the family ranch when he meets Casey (Sophie Nelisse), the new girl in town. The two quickly hit it off, and connect in a way neither has before. Jonas soon realizes that Casey’s cop dad (Paxton) abuses her, and spontaneously can shift between country charm and frightening intimidator.
Writers Kevin Coughlan and Ryan Grassby do a nice job of using minimal dialogue and subtle interactions to round out these characters. Paxton plays a corrupt cop who is an alcoholic and abusive dad, and a man overly protective of his daughter and distrusting of outsiders. Casey is played by Sophie Nelisse, who was so good in The Book Thief (2013). She is a smart girl who fears not just her father, but also a life that may prevent her from ever seeing the ocean. Josh Wiggins plays Jonas as a strong-willed young man who believes people should do the right thing, especially for their loved ones. Wiggins made a terrific film debut in 2014’s Hellion.
There is a lot going in this little independent feature. It’s a coming of age story, and a reminder of the anxiousness of youth and the power of first love. It’s also a disturbing story of a rotten-to-the-core man who has lost his way (if he ever had it). Lastly, it’s a chase movie that features a blend of beautiful and harsh scenery – filmed mostly in Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario. There is a tremendously tense sequence shot with the limited perspective offered by the covered bed of a pickup truck; and it’s a contrast between two youths trying to escape their situation, and two bad cops with little redeeming value. Maybe we’ve seen similar type movies, but never one with two excellent young actors and a menacing performance from the late great Bill Paxton.