Magnolia Pictures // 2011 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // April 25th, 2012
One town. One life. One wrong turn.
One of the scariest things about parenting is the shocking fact that you can't be "on" all the time. Depending on the situation and the age of the child, everything from a second to an hour out of sight is enough to be dangerous. There's a reason it's a cliché that parents always say "I only turned my head for a second" after something disastrous happens to their child. However, those small moments also make for great drama, if the rest of the story can live up to the promise of the premise. Angels Crest has a similar mistake at its heart, one that opens up the rest of the story. Though an earnest movie, it can't quite find a way to deal with the pressures of parenting.
On the way through the woods with his napping three-year-old, Ethan (Thomas Dekkar, A Nightmare on Elm Street) pulls over to follow a group of deer into the woods. When he returns, his son is missing. A search party is organized, and everyone pitches in. When the tragic results are revealed, Ethan has to cope with the pressures of suspicion, guilt, and prosecution.
On one level it's easy to want Angels Crest to succeed. No one should have to lose their child the way Ethan and Cindy lose theirs. There's an immediate gut reaction of sympathy, even if we also want to blame Ethan for leaving his son unattended.
However, the film squanders that sympathy and good will almost from the outset, with a couple of huge problems. The first is shallow writing. Ethan is almost solely defined by his guilt, while Cindy is an alcoholic. Of course, they go through the motions of grieving, and those aspects of their characters are explored in depth, but that's not enough material for the narrative. To add a bit of fuel to the story's fire we also get some "local color" in the form of a prosecuting attorney, a local diner owner, and a lesbian couple, all of whom have their own opinions on Ethan and his parenting choices. These would be a fine addition if they weren't stereotypical characters, especially the lesbian couple.
The other major problem with the film is the one-note emotional level it maintains. Of course, losing a child like Ethan and Cindy do would lead to horrible guilt and lots of bad feelings. However, that does not mean that both the performances and the overall narrative need to be relentlessly screeching in their depiction of that guilt and bad feelings. Sadly, that's pretty much the route that Angels Crest takes, with shallow characters over-emoting at one another.
At least Angels Crest (Blu-ray) is pretty to look at. Of course Angels Crest takes place in the depths of winter, so the crisp whites of the snow look fantastic in this 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer. Detail is generally strong, and black levels are consistent and deep. The DTS-HD 5.1 surround track usually sticks to dialogue, which is clean and clear in the center channel. The film's score is well reproduced, though, and the surrounds get a bit of a workout during some of the bigger scenes.
Extras start with five deleted/extended scenes, including an alternate opening and ending. These all have optional commentary from the film's director Gaby Dellal. The commentary is interesting enough to make me wish that she contributed a commentary to the whole feature. There are also a pair of interviews, one with star Thomas Dekkar and another with Mira Sorvino. Together they're about 25 minutes and go into extensive detail about the film and their characters. A little less detail is present in the short, EPK-style featurette, "A Look at Angels Crest," which is 5 minutes of cast and crew interviews, combined with footage from the film. The disc rounds out with the film's trailer.
I should say that Angels Crest isn't really a bad film in the strictest sense of the term. Some of the performances are fine, and much of the basic story is sound. My main problem is that it asks the audience to invest a lot of emotion into a very dark story, and doesn't do too much to repay that. For those looking to see a bit of a downer, Angels Crest might fit the bill perfectly.
While researching this review, I was shocked to discover that the same director also gave us On a Clear Day, the gentle story of an eccentric British man trying to learn to swim the English Channel in response to a midlife crisis. Where that film was light and humane, Angels Crest feels dark and bit excessive. Still, there are some good performances for the patient viewer, and the film itself is quite nice to look at. Worth a rental for fans of the actors.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes