2016 - 108 minutes
Directed by: Jon Cvack
Written by: Jon Cvack
Starring: Laurence Fuller, Micah Parker, Marshall R. Teague, Rosalie McIntire,
Road to the Well is an assured debut from writer/director Jon Cvack, boasting an uncommon level of technical polish for a true indie that was partially funded via Kickstarter. The dramatic thriller peppered with dark comedy is reminiscent of the Coens’ earlier works. There’s a measured neo-noir vibe that keeps the tale of murder, mystery, and betrayal compelling throughout.
Laurence Fuller plays Frank, a guy stuck in a thankless office job. Worse, his girlfriend is sleeping with his boss. Old friend and current drifter Jack (Micah Parker) calls seemingly out of the blue, and arranges a tryst with Ruby (Rosalie McIntire) to lift Frank’s spirits. During the encounter the couple is attacked, leaving Ruby dead and the two friends working through how to handle the situation. They decide to head into the Northern California Sierra to dispose of the body, which proves to be a strange journey of discovery, of both the factual and emotional kind.
There are some secrets given up early that, however covertly, reveal an especially important motivation. Revealing certain pieces of information slightly drains the deliberately paced film of mystery, though it adds a different kind of tension and keeps the third act from feeling like a series of “gotcha” moments. The themes are given more weight than the twists.
Everyone encountered along the way is struggling with follow-through in their personal lives. Frank dropped out of grad school, while Jack left a promising career to become a traveler. Their buddy Chris (Barak Hardley), who unwittingly aids the duo in their quest after they steal the keys to his woodsy cabin, has marriage issues.
Parker especially stands out as a wayward soul. Portraying a mostly stoic individual, he suggests several internal emotions and shows unforced range in imbuing Jack with his drive. The rest of the cast is uniformly solid, though some of the interactions with Hardley’s Chris become a bit flippant and tonally uneven.
The most poignant meeting is with Dale (Marshall R. Teague), an Army veteran who lives in a nearby cabin and becomes wary of the body-disposing friends. Teague is fantastic in his few scenes, speaking with the authority of a military man while slyly confirming his suspicions. This confrontation ends unexpectedly and dovetails nicely with the thesis of regret and the overarching narrative.
Cvack wonderfully communicates his ideas without preaching or using blunt dialogue. From Frank’s weariness in his personal and professional life to Jack’s combination of amiability and inscrutability, the characters and the world they inhabit come across as lived-in.
Cinematographer Tim Davis also does a remarkable job of establishing a sense of place, making the Sierra setting feel majestic and equally suffocating. Dimly-lit interiors with clearly defined architecture help set the pressure-filled mood and create a sense of claustrophobia, especially in stressful conversations with Dale. The woods and mountains, captured gorgeously, provide a sense of scale. Also creating atmosphere is a refined score from Conor Jones that adds intrigue to the physical and emotional voyage.
That voyage may wallow at times in a few overlong scenes, but Road to the Well is engaging as it broods, remaining methodical in its approach to resolution and developing the psyches of its unsettled characters. That type of restraint is impressive, especially for a directorial debut.
Road to the Well is available on DVD, iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.