Nor'easter

by Martin R. "Vargo" Schneider

EXPECTATIONS: It's always fun when someone shows up on our very own Something Awful forums to promote a movie they made themselves. Usually it's just a series of poorly lit YouTube shorts filled with unfunny inside jokes that "all my friends thought were so awesome lol." We gather around to mock the videos, and the fledgling filmmaker has an internet meltdown, storms off, and is never seen again.

That's why it was such a bizarre occurrence when forums member Exree, also known as writer/director Andrew Brotzman (who has no idea we're reviewing this, by the way), showed up to promote Nor'easter. He was promoting a real film. It had people in it that had been in things. It had a really cool poster. It had a trailer. More than anything, it looked good. So we had a deliberation and decided that because this is a movie, and it has been released currently, that means it meets the clearly defined criteria for coverage here at Current Releases. Don't get too excited by that, though. MILF and Suing the Devil also met those standards.

Now that's a classy poster.

REALITY: Sometimes a film comes along that is truly fascinating and masterful, and you want to recommend it to everyone that you know, until you realize that most of the people you know will not enjoy it. Nor'easter is one such frustrating film, completely polarizing in its nature because the things that make it so good for cinephiles and purveyors of independent film also render it inaccessible to more mainstream audiences. This is why the VOD model is so good for independent filmmakers: Because the distribution method allows better matching of viewer to artist, the film will have a smaller audience, but it will be the one that it deserves.

Nor'easter is not for everyone. There are no gore scenes or graphic depictions, but there is thematic content involving abuse, Stockholm Syndrome, religious guilt and implied pedophilia. None of this is explicitly stated, which almost makes it worse, because Brotzman doesn't have to tell you what's going on; in the pit of your stomach, you understand. Nor'easter also seems to drag along throughout its short runtime, but that's because it's a slow burn. It's setting up a third act that provides some of the tensest moments to be found onscreen this year.

Nor'easter tells the story of Eric Angstrom (David Call), a young priest assigned to an island off the coast of Maine after the former Father's scandalous resignation. Eric is asked to counsel Richard Green (Richard Bekins), a father struggling to come to terms with the five-year-long disappearance of his son Josh (Liam Aiken). After Eric convinces Richard to move on and let Josh go, a funeral is held, and then Josh suddenly reappears. After failing to re-assimilate into his old life, Josh tells the dark truth about where he's been to Eric in confession, leaving Eric unable to handle the secret he has to keep.

Nor'easter is a technical powerhouse. Every frame cinematographer Ian Bloom has put together is perfectly composed and rich in information. What's most interesting, though, is how many shots are set in dark environments. Bloom and Brotzman are very deliberate in what they allow the audience to see, creating a claustrophobic and confining mood to many indoor scenes in stark contrast with the bright white open shots of snowy woods and iced-over lakes. It's thematically important, as it makes perfect sense for a film that questions the usefulness of religion to play with the concept of a literal "light in the darkness" and sometimes show what you don't want to see. To top this all off, a haunting, piercing string-based score pinpoints the most anxious moments and makes you shudder in anticipation.

From a storytelling perspective, Nor'easter is very bare-bones. Little time is spent on anything that doesn't directly advance the plot. As a result, the characterization for much of the main cast is lacking, including Josh's mother and sister. That said, there are two particularly striking performances. David Call portrays false confidence perfectly, switching Eric from completely lost to fraudulently self-assured, while Danny Burstein uses his incredibly limited screen time to bring a strange sense of humanity to a despicable character.

Amazon's rental period for Nor'easter is a week, which is great because this is a film that needs and rewards multiple viewings. I'm watching it for the third time as I write this; scenes that were dull the first time flew right past during the second. The more time I spend with it, the more I'm convinced that this is the kind of raw, gritty cinema that doesn't come through very often. It's certainly one hell of a debut.

Performances9/10
Cinematography10/10
Tone10/10
Characterization7/10
Storytelling7/10
Overall43/50

MINORITY REPORT: I don't know where this vicious rumor started, but Martin R. "Vargo" Schneider DOES NOT get 3% upfront for writing this review. I repeat: Internet film critic Martin R. "Vargo" Schneider DOES NOT get 3% upfront for writing this review. - Sean "Keanu Grieves" Hanson

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