If Colonel Kurtz from Coppola's Apocalypse Now had had a son, he'd probably have a lot in common with Julian (Shane Dean). The definition of intensity with a little bit of intimidation and instability included for good measure, Julian is none too happy when his friend John (Slade Hall) decides to bring Paul (Cavin Gray Schneider), a hardcore-camping virgin along on their three week survivalist trek into Arizona's Kaibab National Forest.
With just the clothes on their back along with a black kitchen trash bag, knife and bottle of water each – along with a bag of peyote for their ultimate vision quest once deep into the forest – the three unlikely adventurers embark on an awkward journey, alternately working together and engaging in a figurative pissing contest over which contents on the ground will end up in their mouth and how to discern where north is should Paul's watch ever fail.
And just like the old premise of when you see a gun in the first act, you know it will go off in the third, in Deadfall Trail some of the information presented near the start of the film (including how to find north) becomes an obstacle to overcome as the film continues.
Aside from an irksome lack of background detail – more specifically in wondering just how the easygoing, charismatic John serving as the glue who holds his two buddies tentatively together would've ever been friends with (or first encountered) Julian, we soon establish a sense of basic character understanding of the three in a dynamic opening act.
However, despite John's attempts to serve as the adhesive between the two soon threatens to lose its tenacity in the unforgiving Arizona heat as Julian's limited tolerance of Paul is put under enormous strain once a shocking twist of fate threatens to do more than just challenge the masculine bonds of the group.
Relying on one another for survival, Julian, Paul, and John get much more than a peyote trip in award-winning short filmmaker Roze's full length debut directorial effort Deadfall Trail. The independent film boasts tremendously impressive production values for a feature debut.
And while the work is uniformly excellent, special attention must be paid to the beautifully lensing on RED cameras by cinematographer Tari Segal that gives Deadfall its visceral sense of urgency, using what appears to be mostly natural light both to its intense beauty and peril in a few sequences where even squinting in a darkened room find you straining to ascertain just what we're looking at.
Polished with first rate effects including a few trippy dream sequences that cut right to the primal Kurtz-like Heart of Darkness and a jaunty score give the film some needed uplift in a gripping but overly meandering third act where the lack of character development from the start finally catches up with the movie just when we would've benefited from it the most.
Nonetheless, the screenplay penned by Roze, his wife Candace Rose and friend Josh Staman is astute in its realization that much like the campers, it's best to keep moving forward without looking back or bogging it down in back-story, even though it teases us with depth in some gorgeously penned scenes where the men have heart-to-hearts over a blazing fire and talk about what scares them the most out of life, seemingly unaware that they're about to confront those fears at any moment.
Overall, a taut, compelling thriller that boasts strong performances from its leads -- most notably a ferociously implosive and explosive handle on Julian by Shane Dean -- Deadfall Trail, which is screening at the 2010 Phoenix Film Festival, shows extraordinary promise from the talented Roze.
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