Saturday 1 March 2014

Belly of the Whale (2014)

Director: Kyle Gerkin
Stars: Eric Almassy, Stacie Stocker, Greg Lutz, Desiree Srinivas, Bill Wetherill, Travis Mills and Scruffy
This film was an official selection at Filmstock 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of all 2014 films.
This film was a submission to one of the IFP Phoenix film challenges in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 submissions.
IFP Phoenix run three film challenges every year and the Breakout Challenge wraps up the 2013/2014 season. All entries were screened at the Phoenix Art Museum on the 6th of last month and the Running Wild family made out like bandits again. Technically, they only won one of the three Best Picture awards this year, for Star Babies at Beat the Clock, but most other awards went to regular cast and crew. As an example, Catch the Frog, their official Mystery Box entry, won nothing, but Best Picture winner After the Beep had a Running Wild cast and a Running Wild director, Kyle Gerkin, who also directed this film. The same happened at Breakout where Belly of the Whale 'only' landed third place and won for Best Music. It was beaten by Conundrum and Blue, the two big films of the event, both of which won acting awards for members of the Running Wild stock company: Bill Wetherill, who's also here in support, and Colleen Hartnett, who in Blue, reprised her perennial Running Wild screen partnership with Michael Hanelin.

Belly of the Whale is another strong film challenge entry but it ends unexpectedly weakly. We open at a bible study session, which in a Running Wild film surely tells us that something is up; a recurring theme in the 52 Films/52 Weeks shorts that Travis Mills directed in 2013 was anti-Catholicism, though that may partly have tied to the large number of James Joyce adaptations. Barry, the leader of the group, explains how Jonah could have survived in the whale for days, as if he knows from experience. The others clearly don't see what we see, a hard quality in the look between Barry and his wife Kate as he wraps things up for the week. And, as Peter recites the Lord's Prayer to end the session, we discover what's really going on. Tellingly, it's as Peter gets to 'Give us this day our daily bread' that we see Kate feeding dog food to the ball gagged prisoner they have chained up in a back room. It would appear that perhaps Barry was talking from experience if we see their house as a whale of bricks and mortar.
I've seen and reviewed many of these actors before, not only in IFP challenge entries. Mills and Wetherill make up two thirds of the bible study guests, the last participant being Eric Almassy. The hosts are Greg Lutz and Stacie Stocker. Desiree Srinivas, such a seductive and powerful witch/vampire in Helsing, is the unnamed prisoner here, as if Barry's really covering for Abraham van Helsing and setting her free would mean death to everyone. Lutz and Almassy are the new faces to me here and both are solid additions to this company. Technically I've seen Almassy before, in the short comedy Eduardo and Ted, but he didn't register. I'd soon see a lot more of him during the 52 Films/52 Weeks festival immediately following the Breakout Challenge; he was all over those credits like a rash, meaning that while this was the first of his Running Wild films for me, it was far from the first for him. Within only a few days, he became a very familiar face, not to mention a very capable and very versatile one. He'll surely be back often.

The dialogue is deceptively bare once the bible study group goes home, because the tension and action is ratcheted up by a small number of key lines. Almassy gets the first, because Peter is a sharp cop and he comes back to investigate. 'Who's in that room, Barry?' is his line and his delivery is perfect. Stocker gets the next one and she nails that too, with powerful backup in her arms. Finally it's up to Srinivas to bring it home by adding suitable gravitas to a line comprised of only a single word. The first half may be too crafted a setup but it's good and the second half is excellent, but the whole piece really suffers from a poorly thought out ending. I can't go deeper without spoilers, but you'll surely wonder the same thing I did during the finalé. That's followed by quotes from the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report, which unfortunately lessens a powerful fictional story by morphing it into a PSA. The message is a valid one and it's why the film exists, but it feels like a cheap thing to spring on us. It deserved better.

Belly of the Whale can be watched for free at YouTube.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm a little disappointed that you didn't talk much about Kyle's directing work on this.