Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 5

Now I'm getting into the groove--2 movies a night, every night.

Last Monday was the night of strange religion, with a documentary and a horror film.

First up, the documentary THE OVERNIGHTERS. Set in the Oil fracking boomtown of Williston, North Dakota, it documents the struggles of the people from all over the country who come there looking for work. A lot has been written/said/filmed about the environmental impact of fracking (hydraulic fracturing.) This movie emphatically does not add to that volume. Instead it looks at the impact of the massive influx of outsiders into this tiny town. And it looks at it mostly through the eyes of the outsiders and especially through the eyes of Pastor Jay Reinke of Concordia Lutheran Church. Defying his neighbors and many in his own congregation, he gives them a place to sleep...at least, as much as he can. He's not exactly slow to kick people out if they're causing a problem, but he does his best to do what he sees as his Christian duty to help these people. Even if some of them have...ahem..."colorful" pasts. Or if they just look funny--one of the best lines is when he's trying to convince a man that he would be more welcome by the neighbors if he cut his hair. The man asks if Jesus had short hair, and Reinke responds, "Jesus didn't have our neighbors."

Now, I was talking to people afterwards who thought the movie had 'too much religion' in it. And I make no secret that I am not a religious man. But I also don't think it would make any sense to downplay the religious angle of the movie. It is exactly why Pastor Reinke does what he does. And as a non-believer I can't exactly say he's doing God's work, but he's certainly doing good work. Not that it helps with his struggles with the town. The paper catches wind that he has welcomed a registered sex offender into his home, and...well, things kind of spiral out of control for him. And then there's a twist at the end that kind of comes out of left field. And I don't want to say more about that, best to leave it as a surprise. I'll just end by saying that it offers a heck of a lot of questions about what really makes a community.

And then for the horror film, THE SACRAMENT. Taking the Jonestown massacre as the clear inspiration (despite the standard "any similarity to actual events or people is purely coincidental" disclaimer at the end) it treats the story as a found-footage horror film. Starring a gaggle of mumblecore stars--Joe Swanberg, Kentucker Audley, Kate Lynn Shell, Amy Seimetz, and AJ Bowen--in a decidedly non-mumblecore film, it starts out promising enough setting the story in modern times with reporters for Vice Media going to the remote Eden Parish to investigate what has happened to their friend's sister. Once there, they meet...a lot of very friendly people. And they meet Father, played with morbid geniality by Gene Jones (certainly he wasn't cast just because his name was so close to Jim Jones.) But just a few people reach out to them with pleas for help, and...well, things deteriorate quickly. And so does my interest. Because it's exactly by-the-numbers the Jonestown story. I just kept wishing they'd change something, not make it so darned on-the-nose obvious. Have a different take on it. But no, this is the Jonestown story, and not much more.

Now, if Joe Swanberg, playing the cameraman Jake, looked out over the vast expanse of dead and dying people and said, "Oh no! Not again!" this movie would have been great.

Total Running Time: 195 minutes
My Total Minutes: 360,827
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