Judge Dennis Prince was thrilled when he thought this to be a much anticipated follow-up to Almost Famous. It wasn't.
He's haunted by a past that will alter his future.
It's disappointing when a film's trailer winds up being better than the feature it touts. It's aggravating, then, when a film's tagline is the only redeeming element of the entire production. Such is the case with Stillwater, an ambitious yet inept attempt to explore themes of isolation, abandonment, and a string of serial murders.
Meet Andrew Morrison (portrayed by first-timer Andrew Hulse), a brooding twenty-something college graduate who lives in an adjunct garage behind his parents Georgia home. Unwittingly, he uncovers a mysterious red box that contains artifacts indicating his folks are adoptive and his real parents may be connected with a string of grisly murders. He sets off on a hunt to locate his natural family and employs the services of a private investigator (Jeff Evans). As he homes in on the shocking truth, his probing persistence effects equally shocking responses from those he seeks out. In the end, Andrew can only wonder if psychotic madness is hereditary and if it's to become his birthright to continue in a predilection for diabolical deeds.
Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Well, sadly, it isn't. That is, a courteous round of applause is to be given to first-time writer/director Adrian Kays (who also produced the picture), but it's clear he didn't have the necessary resources to pull this one off. The story is rather compelling when read in capsule form (as in the preceding paragraph or on the backside of a DVD case), yet it becomes quickly apparent that it can't be given justice on a budget of spare change and pocket lint. It's too bad, really, because there's much that can be explored here and it would be intriguing to see this story picked up by a filmmaker or financier that could fill in the missing elements. Most distracting is the acting itself. Although Andrew Hulse performs passably, the rest of the cast is generally embarrassing. Of note is the cinematography by Lyn Moncrief, that which provides some potentially promising imagery, communicating an atmosphere of isolation and disjointed despair. Unfortunately, it's not enough to save this picture. On the positive side, Stillwater, in this form, should be considered a demo film and could likely be shopped for proper backing. Keep Kays in the director's chair and retain the services of Moncrief, but get a budget to up the output of all other aspects.
Credit is to be given to Synapse Films for embellishing Stillwater with a nice treatment. The anamorphic widescreen transfer looks very clean though you'll see frequent graininess inherent to the original source material. The audio track is quite competent, presented in a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix created especially for this release (and so it appears the disc has cost more than the actual production). Extras include an active and reasonably interesting audio commentary featuring director Kays, cinematographer Moncrief, and actor Hulse. A still gallery is also on board, as well as a director's biography.
Independent filmmaking is the heart and soul of this industry and is to be commended and supported for its ability to refreshingly exist apart from the stale Hollywood movie machinery. The hope is that, while this presentation of Stillwater isn't any sort of "must see" minor motion picture, it certainly has potential that should be further explored.
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