Sunday, July 30, 2017

We Go On (2016)

Miles (Clark Freeman) is afraid of everything: cars, people, the outside, you name it, he’s afraid of it. His multitude of phobias is really the expression of one central fear: the fear of death that came upon him with the sudden death of his father.

Miles thinks the only way to lose this fear is to prove that we go on after death in one form or the other, so he puts out a bounty of $30,000 for the person who will prove an afterlife to him. Sifting through a huge number of propositions with the help of his mother Charlotte (Annette O’Toole), Miles finds a lot of obvious fakes, bad jokes, and attempts to sell him stuff, whittling his list down to three proposals actually worth investigating, and a mysterious phone call on his mail box. In the end, Miles will get the positive proof he seeks, but not surprisingly, it’ll not bring him much happiness.

Directing partners Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton made an interesting indie movie named YellowBrickRoad that a lot of people were really impressed by, but that never really won me over thanks to various technical issues I found highly distracting as well as a script that – for my taste – completely broke down for the film’s final third. We Go On is a mighty improvement in all regards, definitely still made on an indie budget but much slicker realized, never looking as cheap as it probably is, featuring performances that are at least decent – usually better – and some effective moments of horror. I was particularly fond of the scene in which Miles follows his last possible informant to a ruined house next to the LA airport and encounters something that may not be totally surprising to the genre-savvy audience but that still works wonderfully because it is so carefully shot and edited. In general, Holland and Mitton show themselves to be highly capable when called to create moments of slight disquiet; I wasn’t always as convinced by the more obvious shocks, but then, when am I ever?

For much of its running time, We Go On is a clearly observed character piece about Miles and the source of his anxieties as they are revealed by the things and people he encounters during his quest. This approach works as well as it does because it is always clear the writer-directors actually know what kind of story they want to tell and are very good at revealing Miles through the people he encounters while also telling us all we need to know about these people in very economic ways. Stand-outs here are certainly the medium Josephina (Giovanna Zacarías), who teeters on the edge of madness thanks to the way she has to live yet also shows surprising amounts of kindness where self-absorption would be absolutely understandable, as well as O’Toole’s tough and dignified portrayal of Charlotte, that feels highly authentic to a certain kind of mother with a damaged grown-up child.

So, the character work is generally very strong here, the mood is evocative, the filmmaking successful, and the film knows what it wants – yet still I can’t say I was wholly happy with the final act. The problem – though make no mistake, this is still a film very much worth watching – is that I never completely managed to buy into the film’s shift from something character-based into something plot-based. There’s an awkwardness to this approach that suggests an attempt to achieve a more conventional dramatic arc with a very pat ending because that’s how genre films are supposed to work, and not really because this particular film actually needed it, leaving me unsatisfied when We Go On suddenly appeared to care most about resolving a plot arc I wasn’t particularly invested in, while just finishing the character arc I was invested in as an afterthought.

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