In 2019, I had the privilege of reviewing Steele Wool, an indie feature from Frank A. Cappello starring up-and-coming deaf actress Cami Varela. The two have united again for The Womb, a psychological thriller set for its world premiere on February 27th at the Golden State Film Festival in Los Angeles.
The Womb centers aroun Sami, whom we meet at two stages of her life - as an adult (Varela) and as an eight-year-old child (Hannah Zamora). In the film, our Adult Sami is a deaf woman who waits for a family that never returns. It's her journey that serves as the heart and soul of The Womb, Sami's story is a puzzle to be put together piece-by-piece even as a malevolent entity leaves her unscathed amidst a barren neighborhood.
The world that Cappello has created here mesmerizes, though it's to his credit that he manages to keep us guessing throughout about what is happening, where it's happening, and exactly what's going to unfold. While there are times that a film loses its rhythm when a character is portrayed as both an adult and child, The Womb never does. Hannah Zamora is remarkably impressive as young Sami, a girl with a memory she can't remember and possibly shouldn't. Jamison Jones, as Ben Richards, is similarly impressive right alongside her.
Varela, as always, gives an emotional tour-de-force performance that somehow manages to radiate both strength and vulnerability. She's bewildered in the world in which she finds herself and we're bewildered right alongside her. Truthfully, this is a strong and gritty ensemble in a strong and gritty film that goes both internal and external to tell its story.
Cappello's films seemingly always have an element of darkness with a shard or maybe even just a sliver of light that you have to reach for if you really want it. Cappello's characters, and it's especially true of Sami, have to not just want hope but actually have to go out and find it for themselves in whatever they can. There's nothing neat or clean or spoon-fed here - it's hard earned and hard to keep.
Cappello's own lensing for the film is somewhere between Mad Max and Wall-E, a comparison and contrast you'll understand if you're really paying attention to everything that's going on. Original music by David Williams is industrial-tinged earthiness that makes you feel inside and out.
The entire ensemble is strong here. Special kudos go to a remarkable Anzu Lawson as Sophia and Taylor Murphy-Sinclair's Jade, the latter being a player in this story whom I just couldn't forget from beginning to end.
But again, this entire ensemble rocks.
The Womb hints at a world misunderstood and the power of that brokenness to disrupt and disfigure ourselves and the world around us. As layers get revealed, we're shocked and awed at the story that unfolds and the impact that it has on these characters and us as an audience. The Womb is never really what we expect it to be, however, it's absolutely everything we need it to be.
If you're in Los Angeles, catch The Womb at the Golden State Film Festival in February 27th. You won't be disappointed.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic