Irish Music Fans Are Terrified, Lucius Malfoy Is a Dirty Prophet: Sundance in Short
Being freaked out by 'In Fear' and underwhelmed by 'Sweetwater'
In Fear: Tom and Lucy have only been dating two weeks. He (Iain De Caestecker) is confident and also little awkward. She (Alice Englert) is mischievous and also a little nervous. They’re on their way to an Irish music festival which, sadly, we’ll never see or hear because Tom’s got other plans for them. Nothing so nefarious however — he just wants to get laid, so he rents them a room at a countryside hotel in advance and surprises Lucy with the news after a stop at the nearest pub.
The thing is, someone else has other plans for Tom, and we’re not sure whom exactly. Could it have been a drunk jackass he pissed off at the watering hole? A gang of Straw Dogs-style townies out to emasculate him? Ireland’s own Norman Bates? The Blair Witch? For the first half of this quickly escalating psychological thriller, which owes a bit of debt to each of the above referenced films (Psycho included), we have no idea what’s tormenting the young couple, but we get the feeling it’s far more than their adrenaline-flooded brains as every sign they find pointing toward the remote inn eventually leads them back to the same creepy cabin.
Director/writer Jeremy Lovering, whose previous work was in British television, quite masterfully ramps up the terror with the most minimal of details and scenery, despite the rather ham-fisted sound design and glut of lingering close-cropped shots. Read the film’s accompanying literature, and you’ll find out why it still works: Lovering shot the thing chronologically, and only gave his stars the bits of the script they’d need each day (and sometimes different versions). Most importantly, he left out all of the scary shit, so anytime anything happened, the actors were quite possibly experiencing genuine fear. It’s not a particularly original story but it’s executed well. And at the end of the day, once the sun’s gone and the shadows start playing tricks, we wouldn’t be caught dead (gulp) in Lovering’s forest.
Sweetwater: As a matter of courtesy, let’s put the redeeming qualities up front: a) Ed Harris is excellent without qualification as the eccentrically ass-kicking, air-waltzing Sheriff Cornelius Jackson; b) January Jones shoots a bunch of dudes and gets naked (sometimes simultaneously), if that’s your bag; and c) well, um, it’s purty. The praise stops there, however, for this thinly conceived Old West tale of a religious fanatic who — it’s mentioned all of once — seeks to obtain a broadened swath of the New Mexico Territory so that he can create “a great holy community” which places him, the Prophet Josiah (played by Jason Isaacs, née Lucius Malfoy) on a golden throne next to God himself. But instead of actually doing any of that, PJ is just a bad dude who uses any kinda-sorta-Biblical excuse to lie, cheat, steal, murder, and fornicate.
Sure, the snake-oil salesman is a go-to trope, but this guy buys his own B.S., which makes it hard for audiences to do the same. There are strange implications that he’s Mormon (rumors of his hailing from Salt Lake City and being a polygamist) and also randomly inserted elements of white supremacy — it’s as if someone wrote down all of the things people fear/suspect about Christian preachers, put them into a ten-gallon hat and drew from it anytime Josiah didn’t seem nefarious enough. And then there’s our heroine, Jones as Sarah, the sharpshooting and conspicuously accent-less former whore out for revenge because the Prophet killed her Mexican husband who, by the way, sounds very much Spanish when he speaks (Eduardo Noriega).
Frankly, it seems like writer/director team Noah and Logan Miller saw a certain, ahem, oily movie a few years ago, coupled that with what they remembered about that classic Western with the three-way standoff, and then went down to the saloon to hash out the details. This could’ve worked as camp, but Harris is the only one who looks like he’s having any fun amidst these po-faced sinners and saints. And somebody please get January some Ecstasy — her serotonin pathways appear to be completely bombed out.