| March 21, 2016

Until I was about half an hour into Undertow, I thought I’d made a big mistake in volunteering to review it.  It reminded me of a previous Olive Films release that I reviewed that I can’t even remember the title of about an old man (Robert Duvall) and his grandson living in the middle of nowhere and something happens to them that I don’t remember.  Undertow has a similar setup except it’s mostly about two brothers, Chris (Jamie Bell; Fantastic Four) and Tim (Devon Alan), and their father John (Dermot Mulroney; Shameless) living off the land in the middle of nowhere.  Everything is going fine for the little family except for Chris’s apparent boredom and tendency to rebel.  Things get a little more interesting when John’s estranged brother Deel (Josh Lucas; American Psycho) shows up to apparently help out, but has an agenda of his own that ends up splitting the family apart and forcing the young brothers to run for their lives.

I have difficulty classifying the genre of this film.  It’s mostly a quaint little independent family drama about a screw up kid who does things like accidentally step on a board with a nail in it while running from police, and his brother who eats paint.  In these moments it feels like the film is forcing idiosyncrasies on us for no particular reason.  These oddities are quickly forgotten/forgiven when the real action of the film takes off and it becomes about the two boys’ survival.  Somehow, after that, the film’s playing with unconventional elements like mythological curses is more easy to go along with.

The acting all around is strong, with the characters all feeling well-rounded and deep with a level of nuance that one might usually find on a stage rather than a screen.  The more I see of Jamie Bell, the more I like him as an actor.  He brings something fresh and interesting to every role he plays, never repeating himself.  I look forward to seeing what he turns up in next because I doubt the failure of the underrated Fantastic Four will affect any of the cast’s career negatively.  Dermot Mulroney and Josh Lucas are also very good here.  These aren’t actors who I tend to seek out, but am always happy when they pop up in things.  Lucas specifically stood out here as a charming snake of a character.  You can’t tell what his deal is until it’s too late, but the inevitability of something terrible coming is powerful and palpable.

Available on Blu-ray from Olive Films on March 22.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
Filed in: Video and DVD

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