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Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Letters Home (2012)

Director: Annie Winn
Stars: Jacqui Allen, Lexi Burke, McKenzie Burke and Steve Briscoe

Films from the University of Advancing Technology's Digital Video program are usually a highlight in any local film selection. Frankly, they've long passed the point where 'local' should be dropped as a pointless limitation. The best part about having a school push so hard for local challenges is that new names keep on coming and most of them feel that they have to outdo the achievements of their predecessors. While Professors Paul DeNigris and Steve Briscoe remain omnipresent, they are no longer the only recognisable names. Caleb Evans is the most obvious new one, given the stunning success of Red Sand and Screaming in Silence, but others are following in his wake. The key name here is Annie Winn, who directed from a story by Vanessa Schell, which was perhaps the most insightful take on the source material of any of the 2012 Masterpiece Challenge films. Unfortunately it couldn't escape the predictability of where it felt it had to go.

Steve Briscoe plays an absentee father, but he sends many letters from Peru back home to Alice, his daughter. He's an explorer on an expedition, and in the mid-1800's that sort of thing doesn't take ten minutes, so we watch Alice grow over many years in the form of three young ladies who took home a deserved ensemble performance win for running through very similar scenes. They build with precisely the emotional cues that you might expect, while dad is shown through artful filters to highlight distance and the fact that after so many years Alice really has no clue what he even looks like. The downside is that it all unfolds as simply and as predictably as you imagine; there isn't a single surprise here. However, it's well put together, with accomplished effects work very different than the UAT norm to fit the period and tone, and the emotional swell is so solid that we almost forget how clearly we see it coming. Almost, but not quite.

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