Thursday 14 May 2015

Thrasherland (2015)

Director: Joshua J Provost
Stars: Casey Likes and Cara Alvey
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in 2015. Here's an index to my reviews of 2015 films.
If Logan Must Make Star Wars was what this year's Home Grown Shorts set needed to lighten the notably dark tone, Thrasherland is what it needed to wrap things up. It's a strong bookend to Grace of a Stranger, a very different film indeed but another one tied to both hope and skateboards. However, instead of two adult actors to tell its story, it relies on one child actor, Casey Likes, with very little support, and frankly, as strong as the sentiment of the short is, it would have failed if he hadn't have been up to the task. The good news is that he's excellent, especially at the beginning but also throughout the twelve minutes that it runs until a conclusion that sits well not just for Thrasherland but for the whole Home Grown Shorts set. I've mentioned the programming of this set a number of times as I've reviewed the films that played in it, because I've been learning the fine art of set programming on my Apocalypse Later mini-film festivals at local conventions and this set, unlike many nowadays, really shone from that angle.

Casey Likes plays Carpenter, a thirteen year old kid who's unhappy that his family won't be able to go to California this year on holiday. Sure, he cares for his little sister, Charlie, who's in hospital for a reason we aren't let in on but which we assume is serious. However, he comes across as the usual petulant youth as he pouts at the lack of holiday. He doesn't stamp his foot when he shouts, 'That's not fair!', but that's only because Joshua J Provost, the writer and director, didn't want to be quite that stereotypical. Life sucks for young Carpenter but it's clearly not as simple as him being selfish. There's a great line early on when his mum suggests that he go see Charlie: 'I don't like to see her like that,' he says, highlighting that he cares but can't give voice to his feelings in terms that his mother would understand. So, when he packs for the road, we know it isn't as simple as just running away from home. The rest of the story fills in the gaps, as he takes a journey whose meaning is eventually made clear through a fantastic and touching plot device.
I happened to sit close to Provost at the screening of Bread and Butter and talked to him about the film of his that would screen later in the festival. While Thrasherland details a journey taken by Carpenter, it also represents a journey for Provost. It took him nine years to make the film, which was originally aimed to be a feature. Eventually he realised that it wasn't going to happen, just like Carpenter's California holiday, so he turned it into something that would, namely this short. I got a real kick out of it, though I wonder what the impact would be if it were to be extended to feature length. It relies on a restrained introduction, that strong lead performance from Likes and a great ending. What we see on the journey is more important to the character than to us, though I have to admit that I enjoyed seeing these sights on the big screen, as my better half and I saw them earlier this year when driving to north Hollywood to take part in the shoot for Flight Fright. We stopped at the Cabazon dinosaurs and the wind farm this side of the mountains too.

In many ways, it's an ethereal piece that often slips away from dialogue into a jangly score as Carpenter makes it further down the road. Provost does drop some hints early on, but then it's just the highway; we do know where he's going, because it doesn't take any knowledge of the road to grasp that, but we don't quite know why and we have to wait it out with Carpenter before Provost opens it up and brings it home. Given that the wait constitutes the majority of the film, which Carpenter either makes it through alone or shares with people we don't see, the technical side of the picture is often in focus. I enjoyed some of the camerawork, like the shadowplay on the bridge, but found some shots too handheld for my liking. The impressive choice of locations is strung together capably by editing, but it's Likes who always keeps us going, the determination on his face only occasionally lost to a fear that he's doing the wrong thing. I bet Provost had the same looks over nine years, but Thrasherland is definitely the right end to his journey.

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