Movie Review: ‘Uncle John’

Review by Lauryn Angel

With Uncle John, director Stephen Piet attempts to mash a gritty mystery with a romantic drama – with mixed results.

The mystery begins with a murder. In this case, we quickly discover the identity of the killer, but the victim remains unknown. The murderer is John (John Ashton), a carpenter in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. John calmly chats with his neighbor whilst surreptitiously disposing of his victim’s body under the guise of burning brushwood. We next see him meeting his cronies at the diner for a daily update on town gossip. It is through these sessions that the identity of John’s victim emerges through talk of a missing person. The victim’s brother, Danny (Ronnie Gene Blevins), is the only person in the town who seems to suspect John. Even the sheriff seems more concerned about what Danny might do to John than the possibility that John might have anything to do with the missing person. John is loved by everyone we see him encounter – his neighbors, Dale and Mary; Franny, the waitress at the diner; and even Mrs. Thompson, for whom he installs cabinets. The face John presents to the townspeople perfectly masks the murderer. The tension in the storyline builds as Danny becomes more aggressive to John, who seems to become more and more weary – whether with the weight of his guilt or with general age is never really clear.

Juxtaposed with John’s story is that of Ben (Alex Moffat), a digital animator for an advertising company in Chicago. Ben is recently single, which makes the arrival of the new producer, Kate ( Jenna Lyng), seem like perfect timing. A basic romantic drama unfolds, as the two have chemistry, but Kate does not want to engage in a workplace romance. The juxtaposition of this story with the murder mystery is perplexing, until it is revealed that John is Ben’s uncle (hence the film’s title). Then, Ben’s frustrations with Kate’s repeated rejection take a darker tone. Is Ben really harmless? Or is he hiding murderous tendencies similar to his uncle’s? Unfortunately, the romance plotline is weakened by its juxtaposition with the mystery, which is the more compelling story.

The two stories come together in the final third of the movie, and pieces of the mystery fall into place. The film leaves us questioning whether John was justified in his actions, or whether an old grudge got the better of him. It also causes us to question our role models. Ben clearly idolizes his uncle, but would he feel the same if he knew what John had done? While the stories don’t quite mesh at times, Uncle John is a thought-provoking movie that at is sometimes reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ Fargo and other times reminiscent of Hitchcock.

Opening In Theaters & On VOD September 18th.

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