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The Independent Critic

Riley Yeary, Angelina Masciopinto, Kaleb Miller, Scott Novotny, Gina Novotny, Joe Pasutti, Sean Pallas, Theresa Larson
Tristan James Jensen
58 Mins.
Difion Digital Theater


 "The Unearthing" a Terrific Debut From 16-Year-Old Filmmaker 
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As I was watching The Unearthing, the filmmaking debut of Tristan James Jensen, I couldn't help but think back on a little indie film called Secret of the Cave that played the Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis a few years back. A student film out of Southern Adventist University, Secret of the Cave was an earnest and fun film if not always entirely satisfying. However, I had the chance to chat with the cast of the film and quickly became of the fan of the light-hearted, family friendly adventure.

The Unearthing has a similar feeling to it, though it's an even more impressive debut from Jensen, who was 16-years-old when he made the film and who has garnered his fair share of festival success including the prize for Best Student Film at this year's Fort Myers Beach Film Festival and a recent appearance at Evansville, Indiana's Alhambra Theatre Film Festival among others.

While The Unearthing is clearly aimed more directly at the teen/young adult population, the film's overall tone may very well prove to be nostalgic for adults like me who grew up on such names as Encyclopedia Brown, the Hardy Boys and, perhaps more appropriately here, Nancy Drew. While this may sound like a bit of a slam, it's actually not. In a cinematic world that is increasingly flooded by unconvincing 3-D conversions and action to the point of distraction, it's rather refreshing and a sign of filmmaking maturity to see a young filmmaker pull off an entertaining and fun adventure film devoid of gimmicks and unnecessary tricks.

The film tells the story of Autumn (Riley Yeary), a teenage girl who moves with her father (Scott Novotny) to Stillwater, Minnesota for the summer. She meets local misfits Charlotte (Angelina Masciopinto) and Parker (Kaleb Miller) and together they work to solve a mystery that the town hides.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Unearthing was actually shot in Stillwater, Minnesota with Jensen's own lensing far surpassing that of many filmmakers his senior and much of what comes across my computer screen from the low-budget indie world. The images are, for the most part, crystal clear with only one underground scene modestly hindered by glare from a flashlight that seemed like it was even distracting the film's young cast. The music by Reuben Spencer fits the 60-minute film quite nicely, while Lauren Friedrich's costume design deserves a mention for being both age-appropriate and nicely woven into the film's color tapestry.

Jensen has also cast the film quite well, though there are certainly fleeting moments when the relatively inexperience of the actors shows. Riley Yeary makes for a convincing "fish out of water" who quickly finds herself swimming with her newly found friends, while both Angelina Masciopinto and Kaleb Miller nicely underplay the "misfit" part of their characters in favor of actually building a cast-wide chemistry.

The Unearthing won't be mistaken for life-changing cinema, but it's definitely a solid debut and an entertaining debut from Jensen. A quick visit to the film's Facebook page revealed that the film is getting ready for a streaming distribution through digital newcomer Difion Digital Theater.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic