Bentonville Film Festival: The Planters / Farewell
The debut feature from writer-directors Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder feels heavily inspired by Wes Anderson, from the music cues down to the shot composition and editing rhythms, but the pair bring enough of their own quirky sensibilities to lend the film true individuality. While the narrative is perhaps overstuffed with ideas — multiple personalities, telemarketing, religious angst, murder, and buried treasure as business model all play a role — Kotcheff and Leder mostly sell the story of friendship between two wayward souls on the back of their own solidly charming performances, smart editing, and fun visual flourishes. Repeated use of stop-motion claymation sequences threatens to tip the film over the twee precipice, but Sam Barnett’s clever animation and the baked-in irreverence (the sequences typically involve interactive biblical stories) keep it all on the right side of that line. Ultimately, The Planters serves as a calling card for a creative team with talent to spare — not only did the two write, direct, and star in the film, they were responsible for almost all of the shooting and on-set design as well — and ideally a micro-budget project with this much polish will help them land the funding needed for their future endeavors.
The set-up of Farewell is promising, utilizing the conventions of the home invasion thriller to dissect social dynamics and relationships. But unfortunately it doesn’t quite hold together in execution, despite some impressive technical work and solid performances from some of the cast. The writing and directorial debut of Chris Chalk — currently seen on television as one of the leads of HBO’s Perry Mason reboot — works more as a showcase for his acting talents and that of his wife and co-producer K.D. Chalk; the two of them have an easy and naturalistic chemistry, especially with each other, that isn’t entirely matched down the roster. Part of the problem lies with Chalk’s script, which could have used another round of polish — dialogue is too often stilted and character decisions tend to stretch the bounds of credulity. But there are moments that work, particularly the more horror-tinged sequences that highlight Lex Kimbrough’s camerawork and Daniel Clive McCallum’s appropriately screechy and tinkling score (though the omnipresence of the music and the balance of the mix can be overpowering). Though Farewell doesn’t entirely succeed, there’s enough substance there to be optimistic about what the Chalks do next.
The Bentonville Film Festival is currently running virtually, August 10-16, 2020.