The writings of Thoreau serve as the life blood for Never Go Back, a new feature film from writer/director Durden Godfrey about a father (Benjamin Hornsby) and son (Daniel Miller) who,after a tragedy in the family, decide to abandon a society with which they have long been at odds in favor of a simpler, more meaningful life under the canopy of nature.
To understand the approach taken in Never Go Back, it might help to understand a bit about Godfrey. At his core, Godfrey describes himself as less a filmmaker and more a visual storyteller. While these two identities may seem to peacefully co-exist, and I suppose on some level they do, the truth is that nearly every frame of Never Go Back is more grounded in visual storytelling than actual cohesive filmmaking.
While Never Go Back is within the framework of film, it's more than a little experimental in nature and likely to appeal most to those audience members with a less strictly defined view of what it means for a film to be a film. A frequently sublime viewing experience only modestly hindered by its modest budget and lack of traditional structure, Never Go Back is the kind of film where its images will come back to you time and time again long after you've viewed the film.
Never Go Back, not so surprisingly, works best when it is focused squarely upon the dynamics between father and son. The film weakens, at times considerably, when, especially early in the film, the outside world penetrates their unique existence. At times, Never Go Back reminded me of the recent Viggo Mortensen starrer Captain Fantastic, though this film is even less market friendly than that incredibly difficult to sell film that featured an Oscar nominated performance by Mortensen. While it's unlikely that either Hornsby or Miller will be knocking on Oscar's door for their work here, that feels appropriate given that the entirety of Never Go Back is centered around the fundamental idea that the "stuff" of life, when it comes down to it, simply doesn't matter.
The first twenty minutes or so in Never Go Back are a tad hit-and-miss, expository dialogue occasionally coming off overly obvious and a tad clunky while the scenery, at times, may intentionally be overwhelming but it feels awkwardly so. That said, these are minor disturbances that build up nicely to the journey being undertaken by father and son.
Both Hornsby and Miller are strong here, Hornsby's weathered naturalism a perfect fit for a man choosing late in life to honor the desire for freedom he's always held while Miller's less mature and less experienced turn as the younger Oliver gives him a broader spectrum of emotions to play from as he delves deeply into an experience for which he seems utterly unqualified to undertake.
Godfrey lensed the film himself and captures exceptionally well both the vastness and the intimacy of life within nature. The original music by Doctor Jones companions the film quite beautifully.
Only recently completed, Never Go Back is just getting set for its festival run and should easily find a home on the indie/underground scene where its low-budget/experimental approach will be welcomed with open arms and open mind. For more information on the film, visit the Never Go Back Facebook page linked to in the credits.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic