Monday, August 10, 2015

A girl's best friend remains her mother: Jorge Michel Grau's follow-up film, BIG SKY

When We Are What We Are hit theaters back in 2010, it looked as if a original new genre filmmaker, Jorge Michel Grau (shown below) had appeared. (That film's American remake in 2013, supposedly inspired by the original, came nowhere near the level of its source.) Then arrived Grau's contribution to The ABCs of Death, "I Is for Ingrown," which was one of the horror omnibus' best segments. Now we finally have his full-length follow-up to his Mexican break-out hit, a little damsels-in-distress thriller called BIG SKY (not to be confused with The Big Sky), and what-do-you-know: it's... pretty good.

If that's damning-with-faint-praise, well, so be it. Genre fans will have seen much better, but they'll also have witnessed much worse. Written by Evan S. Wiener (co-writer of Monogamy), Grau's film tells the tale of a teenager (Bella Thorne) beset with both agoraphobia and some heavy-duty OCD requiring equivalent meds. When her mother (Kyra Sedgwick) decides to take her, via special-needs van, to a desert rehab center, things don't work out quite as planned. And that's all you need to know about plot. Be surprised a bit and enjoy the film more.

Grau and his casting director (Angelique Midthunder) have rounded up a bevy of good actors to bring the story to life -- from the leads right down to smallest roles -- and watching the performers bring to fruition some rather quirky tics provides some fun.

Two of the "tic-iest" roles belong to actors Aaron Tveit (below) and François Arnaud (above and further above). The former's tics are upfront and obvious from his first scene; the latter has only a single scene but it's a doozey, and so is Arnaud -- going from odd to odder in no time flat.

But it's the ladies here who do the heavier lifting, and Misses Thorne (below) and Sedgwick (further below) make a mighty fine troubled family, bouncing off each other, initially in anger, then bonding once the chips are down.

The movie is always interesting -- thrillers had better be -- but it ought to have been quicker, tighter. Grau lets his pacing lag (do we need to see Bella's OCD habit of arranging her pills acted out twice? Tveit's nuttiness is made clear immediately and then repeated again and again. And getting lost in the desert is never as interesting as filmmakers seem to think it is). These aren't necessarily deal-breakers, but they lessen what ought to have been greater white-knuckle suspense.

Coincidence, along with some just-in-time moments, play their part in also weakening the film. Sure, these are standard practices of the genre, but by now we expect a bit more from Señor Grau. The performances, however, are fine (that's Frank Grillo, below, as a somewhat "iffy" local sheriff), and the film, at 95 minutes, runs only a little too long.

From eOne FilmsBig Sky opens this Friday, August 14, in New York (at the Cinema Village) and Los Angeles (ar the Arena Cinema) and simultaneously across the county via VOD.

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