On my journey through a life of watching film, I’ve learned to appreciate storytellers who commit themselves and those around them to doing more with less. They have less budget. They have less investment. They have less opportunities. But – when all is said and done – there are still a great number of them that achieve a freshness with their individual ideas despite no mind-blowing special effects, no million-dollar advertising campaigns, and no blockbuster stars to list on the marquee outside. Simply put, these are the films that still tell stories, and I’m glad to have discovered them in whatever way that I have.
Now … 2022’s Brightwood may not be as entirely original as one could’ve hoped.
We’ve had such ‘locked box’ kind of stories before that have tinkered with the elements of space and time. And other directors, screenwriters, and assorted talent have probably employed the fictional backgrounds of their various created characters to both comment on and/or say something about the wider world that exists outside. But it’s still exceedingly rare when a truly independent production comes along and manages to hit those marks powerfully enough to give it an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and that’s where I find myself this morning. I enjoyed it – and I did so in spite of some weaknesses here and there – mostly because it established a lean efficiency early on, stayed true to the measure of its potential, and delivered the goods as promised.
That, my friends, deserves a measure of respect.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com citation:
“A couple find themselves trapped while on a run around a pond.”
The real trick to effectively delivering nearly any ‘what if?’ scenario is to know precisely when you’ve gone just far enough; and – on that barometer – I think Brightwood achieves just about everything writer/director Dane Elcar probably set out to do with this nifty little thriller/chiller. Audiences – especially those with short attention spans – might grow a bit weary with what’s perceived as the central puzzle to the script, and that’s about the time that Elcar and his talented duo spin something in a little different direction. While it may not maintain a level of freshness and/or chaotic development that big studio exports base their bottom line on (I’m thinking something like the Saw franchise or maybe even something in The Purge’s library of bloody glee), Brightwood merrily chugs along – not unlike its fateful joggers – to the point wherein its foregone conclusion – illustrated poignantly in its last scene – probably wasn’t that hard to predict after all.
And – yes – cue up those who love to point out how well the script serves as a visual allegory for the nature of the Great American Relationship (i.e. marriage or a close facsimile). It’s easy to see the metaphors at work – almost tiresomely so at times – and I suspect that contingent of academics who want their films to “say something” should be pleased. Let it be said that partnerships between sparring minds have always had highs and lows – that’s the part of the ‘for better and for worse’ in marriage ceremonies – so spinning a yarn that’s existential and equally horrific proves to be a noble endeavor. This one leans a bit more heavily in the direction of Rod Serling than it does M. Night Shyamalan, though I suspect some might argue otherwise.
When the (limited) journey itself is the construct for the film, I’ve always struggled – as a critic – to see more in the experience. It’s a puzzle box, so it only works as well as is the puzzle conceived; and on that level Brightwood isn’t so much about depth as it is the intrinsic development. There isn’t all that much here – no insult intended but come the big finish ‘it is what it is’ – and the lack of any authentic explanation to the how’s and the why’s of the couple’s predicament might leave some viewers with a bad taste in their mouths. Still, I’d argue that it goes just far enough in presenting the mystery that maybe – just maybe – few will quibble over the mechanics despite the fact that we’ve culturally seen this story (or a mild variation of it) before … albeit with lesser trees.
Hats off to the talent: Dana Berger and Max Woertendyke make for a lovely couple (snicker snicker) who Fate, Mother Nature, and The Universe (it would seem) have conspired to keep them united despite their professed desires to consciously uncouple. Lesser actors might’ve had trouble selling the sizzle required to make Brightwood work compellingly, and they handle the gamut of emotions required to make their 84 minutes of fame here a truly frightening and confusing ‘morning in the park.’
Brightwood (2022) was produced by Noble Gas Media and Pond Pictures. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the fine folks at Cinephobia Releasing. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I found the sights and sounds to this modestly budgeted independent thriller to be quite good from start-to-finish; there are some bits of sound trickery here and there that are intentionally meant to be a bit distracting, and I thought they delivered the level of eeriness quite effectively. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? The disc boasts an audio commentary, the original short film “The Pond” (which served as the foundation for the film), some deleted scenes, and some assorted trailers. It’s a great collection for a small flick.
Look: I’ve always, always admitted that I’m a sucker for just a good indie thriller – honestly, there are so few truly good ones – and I gotta give props to Brightwood. This is about as good, as solid, and as interesting an indie thriller I’ve had the good fortune to stumble upon. I say this mostly because having watched so many I’ve seen hundreds that didn’t quite know what to do with the reality created, and this one is the exception to that rule. It knows what it is, and it never tries to be something or anything more. Such conviction alone should be rewarded. Sure: I could nitpick its lack of answers or clarity – as could anyone – for hours, but instead I’ll just celebrate its commitment to staying on the path … all the way to its decidedly human finish.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Cinephobia Releasing provided me with a complimentary DVD of Brightwood by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.