I recently watched, online as part of FinFestival, “Still the Water”. Written and directed by Susan Rodgers, it’s her debut feature, and here’s my review.
Having been aware, primarily through social media posts made by Susan, of many of the challenges, problems, and difficulties she had in the process of persevering this film into existence, I first want to offer sincere congratulations for creating something that looks so good, and works as a fully complete and bona fide dramatic feature. This is an accomplishment that deserves mighty praise!
Here’s more praise: the cinematography is sharp and sparkles. The acting, very much of a professional quality, is much better than I was expecting. The direction and editing work well in serving the story being told. By that I mean it doesn’t meander or lollygag too much from what needs to be shown and told, and for that I am always grateful.
I just wish I liked the story more.
Here’s a brief story brief: Sacked from another team in the From Away, Jordie MacAulay (Ry Barrett), a semi-professional hockey playing brother comes back to PEI – to his Summerside community – to sort out his troublesome life and work on his anger issues. His first stop is to his brother Nicky (Colin Price) and his young family, and takes up the offer to temporarily stay in a nearby vacated house. Jordie’s presence is troubling for Nicky, who already seems to have plenty of problems of his own – chief among them is his relationship with haunted-by-her-past next door neighbour Abby (Christena McInulty), who sings at the local bar. There’s also Nicky’s emotionally brooding and stoically suffering wife Alice (Sherri Lee Pike); the brothers’ younger, brother Noah (Spencer Graham) whose obnoxiousness is, I guess, supposed to be played for laughs (?); and their formerly-abusive but now tolerated-by-most father.
The movie follows the leads as they attempt to
work through live through their individual and familial troubles. The brothers Nicky and Jordie take up playing hockey together, arguing with and resenting each other endlessly, spending a we-all-knew-that-was-coming challenging day lobster fishing, and working in their father’s boat repair (?) shop, where nothing (work or relationships) seems to happen.
As I said, the movie looks more than good enough and the acting is pretty sharp, but unfortunately, it all gets let down a bit too much by a story and script that I just did not care that much about. That said, I can certainly see there being people for whom this story might resonate well. But not me. I didn’t find myself really caring about or for any of the main characters. I did, in one scene, feel bad for that Gentlemen Jim’s server, though, who had to suffer through the inexplicable assholery of Obnoxious Noah. Probably the reason I found myself not caring is because I got a bit bored by the repetitiveness of the same challenges showing themselves again and again to the same characters, without any real advancement. And that, I suppose, falls to the storytelling.
Another issue for me – and maybe this is a matter of direction – is the way almost everyone in the movie seems to have a performative air of depressive inevitability to their character. Like everyone was told to express their characters inner turmoils on their faces and in all their movements. It’s like they didn’t trust the script enough to allow any subtext so they telescoped the issues into their physical performances. In this movie even the smiles are played sad.
While I liked the cinematography for the most part, I could have done with far, far fewer “beauty shots” of PEI. Every scene seemingly started and/or ended with pretty shots of sunsets, sunrises, beaches, etc. And a relatively new pet peeve of mine that this movie employs – I am already tired of seeing, in videos/films/shorts/etc., drone shots of PEI that look like they’re taken out of PEI Tourism commercials. Shot for shot’s sake. In this movie, in particular, I didn’t think the beauty of those Tourism Shots lends itself very well to the darker, brooding moods and emotions the movie is attempting to convey.
Something that surprised me was my reaction to the way the story arc of Nicky’s wife Alice was handled. She ended up not being a character so much as a plot device. And that really bugged me. Without giving away too much as a spoiler, I found I was desperate for Alice to have at least one opportunity to release and vent about her situation, to have it out with someone who was actually negatively impacting her life. Or at the very least, let us know why she is seemingly incapable of doing so. The last fifth of the movie I found myself really bothered that she didn’t have that opportunity. And then the way the final shot/scene unfolded only compounded that bother to the extreme.
I hope Susan Rodgers makes more stuff. The filmmaker’s eye is definitely there, and I expect that with more experience she’ll learn to allow the actors to hint at their emotions and inner-feelings a bit rather than have them blatantly wear them on their sleeves.
Were I to give this movie one of my 7-Word Review reviews, it would be: Competent, good effort but a bit blah.