In writer/director Moez Solis's The Mentor, a wannabe filmmaker, Nilah (Brandi Nicole Payne), persuades a vastly more experienced but incredibly hesitant filmmaker, Claire Adams (Liz Sklar), to give her a mentorship. Unfortunately, everything goes awry when the two are kidnapped by an enigmatic gang of costumed kidnappers including Mr. Owl (Mike Bash), Mr. Raven (Michael James Kelly), Mr. Emu (Santiago Rosas), Mr. Pigeon (Corey Jackson), and Mrs. Hawk (Julie Lockfield).
The Mentor is a little absurd, a little suspenseful, and quite a bit of fun despite a slow-going intro and acting that is occasionally a little suspect. The film's secret weapon is a delightful Sklar, a stage-trained actress who co-starred in The Imbued with Stacey Keach and who turns Claire into a brash, bold, and constantly fun to watch filmmaker whose twists and turns in Solis's create, inspired script are fun to watch come to life.
Brandi Nicole Payne, who appeared alongside familiar names Chandra Wilson and Malcolm-Jamal Warner in the short film Muted, is a similar gem as Nilah and especially gets the opportunity to shine in the film's more intriguing and engaging second half.
At a mere 74 minutes in running time, The Mentor sets its stage early and Solis makes the most of the film's running time. While there's a few dry spots early on, by the time the film hits its stride in the second half not a single moment is wasted.
This is Solis's first feature narrative and it's a promising effort. Noted for his work on the anthropological doc The Games of These Divers, Solis has crafted an involving story and structures it quite nicely in a film that is both suspenseful and quite funny.
D.P. Matthew Boyd's ability to shoot a low-budget indie that is often set in a variety of weird lighting situations is impressive, though it's not particularly surprising given his recent work on the wonderful Mine 9. Boyd seems to toy with the lightin ghere, creatively solving some definite dilemmas in ways that serve the story quite nicely.
The Mentor isn't going to please everyone, though it's dark comedy and occasional thrills make it a unique indie film that fits perfectly with its indie distributor Indie Rights. The kidnappers are an intriguing lot. Lockfield's Mrs. Hawk is rather delightfully off-kilter, just unpredictable enough to keep you wondering what she's going to do from beginnng to end. Mike Bash's Mr. Owl is a little more menacing than the rest, his leadership of the group reflective of his own professional ambitions and agenda. Santiago Rosas, as Mr. Emu, is another one of the film's little gems as the more sympathetic of the kidnappers.
The Mentor starts off promising one story, but rest assured that it takes some unique and inspired directions before everything is said and done. While the film is not without its flaws, it's a fun watch and available now through your usual streaming/digital outlets including Amazon Prime.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic