Jul 19, 2019
It’s Friday, so it’s time to hand the reins over to Andrew Campbell for our weekly Fantastic Fest review. I’m really hoping this week’s review pulls him out of a slump of mediocre to meh reviews, and being our fifth Certified Fresh film this week, the other critics suggest this is the case. Andrew will let us know his thoughts in a bit, but for a few more recent reviews from Andrew, check out “The Nightshifter” (Episode #515), “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” (Episode #523), and “Hagazussa” (Episode #530).
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Here we go!
Hello film fans!
Andrew here, back this week with an indie crime thriller that might have been a better fit for Cannes or SXSW, but I’m glad it came to Fantastic Fest. James Badge Dale takes the lead in this one. He’s an actor in his early forties and if you don’t know his name, you would certainly recognize his face. Dale had a busy year at the festival, appearing in 3 of the 80 or so films in the program. “Donnybrook” garnered mixed to unfavorable reviews and features Dale in a smaller role, centering around Frank Grillo and Jamie Bell as bare-knuckle boxers. “Hold the Dark” (Episode #272, scoring 9.6/10) featured Dale as a cop in pursuit of a killer on the Alaskan frontier in a violent masterpiece from Jeremy Saulnier that, thanks to Netflix, never got the theatrical release it richly deserved.
Today’s film is “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek”, the feature film debut of writer/director Henry Dunham. James Badge Dale stars as Gannon, an ex-cop who has joined a local militia – a group of men that have banded together, pooling weapons and prepping should they one day need to stand up for themselves against the government. Growing up in Michigan where this film is set, I can confirm that such militias are real. Their membership peaked in the 90s around 10,000, but a few chapters remain to this day. After news reports come in of a shooting at a police funeral, all seven militia members assemble at a lumberyard only to find armaments missing from a stash to which only they had access. They must root out the killer among them before the police locate them and they all go down.
This screenplay is tight and the sub-ninety-minute runtime is rife with suspense. On one hand it’s an Agatha Christie whodunit, with seven suspects locked down in one place trying to solve a different sort of murder mystery. The militia members all have their own motivations for being part of the group and they appear to keep their personal lives separate from their militant hobby. Though they are not all criminals per se, their darker natures give the film a Tarantino vibe, similar to “Reservoir Dogs”. At the same time, the snappy dialogue and the simple blocking involved in the dozen or so scenes make the film feel like it could be a David Mamet play. The outside influences on this first-time director are clear, but the product they yield is unique unto itself.
In a film with lots of crime talk and very little action, the casting of these seven characters is paramount to keeping the audience engaged. Surrounding James Badge Dale is an exceptional group of character actors, most of whom I recognized from other films, though none of whom could I name. They bring the perfect level of authenticity and anonymity to propel this film forward through some wild twists along the way. Each character gets his moment to show his true self, yet they all manage to hang onto their own secrets.
What makes “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” fantastic? The central mystery turns on its head multiple times in this film and it never feels forced. Writer/director Dunham turns in a stellar debut making a memorable film the old-fashioned way: with a brilliant script, a committed cast, and a minimal budget. The payoff is picture perfect and I never saw it coming.
“The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” (2018) is a modern mystery told in a way you have not seen executed this well before. It requires one’s full attention for 90 minutes and represents the start of a brilliant career for director Dunham. Fans of the aforementioned “Reservoir Dogs” or “The Usual Suspects” will enjoy this film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 76% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
One Movie Punch: 9.0/10
“The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” (2018) is not rated and currently streaming on Hulu.
And now for something completely different... come back next week and we’ll get a little weird with “Liza, The Fox-Fairy” (2015), just your run of the mill Hungarian black comedy about a young woman who may be cursed and her one friend, Tomy, the ghost of a 1950s Japanese lounge singer.
I’ll see you then.