UK Release Date – TBC
In terms of movie settings Cutler County, Mississippi isn’t the best place to make an over night stop for a variety of reasons. There’s an obvious drugs problem and the police are corrupt which only exacerbates this. Then there are the shady things going on at a local nature spot known as… The Hollow. Worst of all this is a dry county, free from the Devil’s liquor. Of course it doesn’t take long for things to get out of hand in this crime thriller about a murder out by the lake. However I’m afraid that the story isn’t exactly told in an edge of your seat fashion. In fact it’s a film which is in dire need of some work in the cutting room. At over two hours long there’s plenty of material that spoils the suspense and frequently grinds everything to a halt.
Police deputy Ray (Miles Doleac) isn’t a nice guy to say the least. When he’s not selling crystal meth to the local addicts he’s spending time with an underage girl from the town high school. She isn’t exactly shy about doing favours for the residents for some reason. But the seedy side of life is something Ray could care less about, and he doesn’t have time for any real crime fighting. He even ridicules his partner Lucas for caring about the idea of law and order. But when same the girl shows up dead his amoral ways start to catch up with him. The identity of two other bodies at the scene may be an ever bigger problem.
When it’s discovered that a US Congress member’s daughter is amongst the dead, the Federal Government are called in to investigate. Two FBI agents Vaughn (James Callis) and Sarah (Christiane Seidel) are soon sticking their oar in where it’s not wanted. They’ve even brought their whole tech support and forensics team with them. As you’d expect the local uniforms and the Bureau suits clash almost immediately. Plenty of suspicious behaviour from the sheriff’s department also comes to light as they poke around. It a fairly typical scenario as the Feds come across a larger problem under the seemingly tranquil countryside location.
Police corruption, petty small town politics and investigations being road blocked by shadowy forces are all good material for a taught thriller. But the focus on these elements is diminished far too often by unnecessary melodrama and obvious filler. The central deaths should be more than enough dramatic material for the film but there’s a lot more going on in town, whether it’s relevant the the investigation or not. For such a small place there’s certainly a lot of random character tangents. As things progress it seems like everyone in this story is having problems on the home front. Maybe someone involved thought they were writing a soap opera?
Ray is trying to balance time with his wife and children with the nefarious side of his day job. Meanwhile Vaughn is a recovering alcoholic attempting to solve child custody problems after a past of domestic violence. If you want a highly strung murder mystery, then be prepared to wade through all of this superfluous material to get to it. Two protagonists on either side of the investigation should have been interesting, but instead the story drags its heels at every opportunity. Later on an investigator from the US Attorney’s Office shows up to put more pressure on the agents. But somehow they also have a history involving Vaughn’s abusive past.
Even the villain of the piece ‘Big John’ Dawson (William Forsythe) spends too much time discussing his grandson’s football team ambitions instead of just being sinister and underhanded. In terms of acting talent he’s definitely the strongest cast member, although nobody here is particularly bad on the whole. When the real drama arrives there are some good moments; when they finally stop talking about their family problems. William Sadler shows up as the Sheriff to chew the scenery for a couple of scenes, although Jeff Fahey as Ray’s father gets a grand total of one cameo moment. The problem is that the characterisation isn’t very compelling, often relying on clichés like corrupt Southern lawyers, self loathing alcoholics and overly religious families.
It all needs trimming right down since things are at their most interesting when it gets to the real meat of the storyline. Particularly when measures are being taken to get rid of people who are a liability or to destroy evidence. But this isn’t well paced at all. The rambling, meandering narrative takes an hour just to reveal Big John’s evil mansion. There’s too much padding all round whether it’s the redundant romantic scenes or the constant sports discussion. Cutting this all to a clean ninety minutes would probably uncover a reasonably engaging, if unoriginal thriller. It’s not badly made, the cinematography is often moody and it has some solid performances. But in this bloated state there’s no way to ever become invested.