Writer/director Peter DeAnello's When Angels Fear starts off in such a way that you're not quite sure whether you're in store for something along the lines of M. Night's 1998 debut Wide Awake, a film I happen to enjoy, or something along the lines of Michael Curtiz's 1938 classic Angels With Dirty Faces.
It's 1974. We're introduced to 14-year-old Joseph Florio (Harper Frawley), a young man who is immediately perceived as giving off mama's boy vibes as he arrives for his freshman year at Divine Light Catholic Preparatory Seminary under the leadership of Father Toomey (Dan Lauria). It doesn't take us long to figure out that all is not right within the walls of Divine Light, a struggling school where not everyone who attends is enrolled to learn about Clerical life. As secrets are revealed, Joseph's life is threatened to keep him from revealing what he knows. For Joseph, surviving Divine Light will take a little prayer and a whole lot of ingenuity.
It's likely fair to say that Peter DeAnello isn't quite a household name, though he's an incredibly familiar name for folks in the film industry with a long history both on and off stage and screen. He's shared the stage and screen and/or worked behind the camera with such familiar names as Kathy Bates, Art Carney, James Cagney, Bruno Kirby, Penny Marshall, Chris Cooper, Christian Slater, and a host of others including, of course, Dan Lauria. For over 30 years, DeAnello's Write to Act Workshop has nurtured many professional industry careers and also helps to serve as a foundation for When Angels Fear. DeAnello invited all of his current Write to Act students to be a part of this production in some ways. They accepted the challenge and the film flourished.
Early in its festival journey, When Angels Fear is already slated at the likes of Soho International Film Festival, Catalina Film Festival, Chandler Film Festival and the list continues to grow.
It's difficult to describe When Angels Fear without giving too much away, something I'm not about to do, but there's a marvelous tapestry that unfolds here amidst faith and doubt, bad choices and something resembling forgiveness and redemption. When Angels Fear gets more intense than you might expect with a strong sense of honesty and realism radiating throughout the film's well-paced 80-minute running time.
The film benefits, of course, from the relatable gravitas of Dan Lauria as Father Toomey. Perhaps destined to be forever known as the father on the television series The Wonder Years, Lauria has long been a dependable character actor with a unique ability to portray both comfort and menace in the same breath. His work here adds a remarkable depth to DeAnello's storytelling and the ensemble's overall fine work.
As young Joseph, Harper Frawley projects a wonderful combination of sheltered vulnerability and 14-year-old bravado. It's a deceptive performance, far more complex than you might expect until you realize long after the credits have rolled that you're still thinking about it. He's joined by a terrific Louie DeAnello as Danny, an absolute scene-stealer with a combo of charisma and heartbreak. Zachary Shepherd, as Kevin Slyke, is also quite impressive along with Sam Delossantos, as Carlo, and Luca Faustino Rodriguez as Edward.
Original music by Anne Trytko is effective throughout in serving as a companion for the film's varying emotional rhythms. Lensing by David Priest practically becomes a character in the film in laying the film's diverse cinematic tapestry.
When Angels Fear is a uniquely satisfying film with a compelling, memorable story and a talented ensemble bringing that story to life. Destined to continue finding success on the indie fest circuit, here's hoping that When Angels Fear lands with an indie distributor capable of bringing its engaging story to the wider audience the film deserves.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic