Jeremy Blackford, Scarlett James, Robert Priester
"To The Dirt" Gets to the Heart of the Horrific Hills
If you would weave together Tim Burton and Rob Zombie with a hint of River's Edge and Lars and the Real Girl, you might get a glimpse into the soul of Drew Bourdet's 23-minute genre transcending short film that doesn't so much ask questions or serve up answers as it simply intertwines itself into the lives of its characters and this simple story that unfolds.
Eli (Robert Priester) and Nate (Jeramy Blackford) are two brothers surviving alone in the Appalachians, their mother having recently passed away. Eli is an intellectually challenged mute who spends most of his days fighting a straw scarecrow he has strung up in the back yard while his brother pretty much does what is necessary for the two to survive. A seemingly normal rural tale becomes incredibly different when Nate stumbles across the corpse of a 15-year-old girl (Scarlett James) in a wedding dress, with fifteen stab wounds to her chest.
What follows could have easily been played for sheer horror, but that would have been predictable and even lazy. What follows could have been played as nothing more than an ultra creepy love story, effectively perhaps, but even that would have seemed rather predictable. If we're being honest, what follows could have been played for laughs. That would have simply been wrong.
No, instead, writer/director Drew Bourdet has crafted a thought-provoking and immensely moving film that patiently meditates upon the human experience, simple acts of kindness and the spoken and unspoken relationships that impact us all. There's an underlying sadness yet an awesomeness to the "friendship" that develops between Nate and this young woman whose greatest acts of kindness received may have unfortunately come after she could possibly recognize them.
Or maybe not.
Even the slightest of a wrong tone played by Jeramy Blackford would have ruined this film, a film that requires us to submit ourselves to an extraordinary circumstance and simply surrender to it. We have to believe in Nate even when we don't understand him, and the fact that we do so is almost solely due to Blackford's wonderfully restrained and natural performance as a young man who seems to find beauty where most of us would find darkness and whose desire for human connection is powerfully played out in both his relationship with his mute brother and with this young girl.
While his is an obviously quieter performance, Robert Priester avoids caricature and creates a compelling performance as Eli, a young man who seems to be working to adapt to life without his mother while also learning how to live as he must in these circumstances. Priester's performance is simple yet infinitely compelling.
Alex Altman's original music is low key and effective, while David Poag lenses the film by subtly building a sense of the isolation felt in this mountain region.
Kudos must, of course, be given to writer/director Drew Bourdet, whose dialogue avoids histrionics and stereotypes in favor of the simple and universal language of the human heart. Bourdet's direction here is slow and patient, despite the fact that the film itself only lasts twenty-three minutes. The film is currently on the film festival circuit. If there is justice, it should easily find a home on the indie and underground film festival circuit. While it is far less graphic than your standard horror fare, it may also be a candidate for horror fests seeking a more thought-provoking and contemplative short film.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic