'Big Sky': Film Review

Courtesy of eOne Films
A girl-in-peril picture made with more sensitivity than usual.

Bella Thorne plays a girl fighting both anxieties and kidnappers.

In his first feature north of the border, Mexican director Jorge Michel Grau strands viewers in the southwestern desert with a girl who's dying to be anyplace else: an extreme agoraphobe who must cross miles of open terrain to save her dying mother. The mental issues plaguing Hazel (Bella Thorne) aren't the only disabilities on offer in a film that sometimes heaps a little too much onto the fire, but Grau and his cast are sincere in their attempt to capture her struggle with empathy and dignity. The result hits genre beats strongly enough to have some mainstream appeal, even if it's unlikely to be a breakout for anyone involved.

Hazel is the daughter of a single mother (Kyra Sedgwick) who is being forced to enter a mental hospital — make that "treatment resort" — to remedy anxieties that have kept her from leaving the house for many months. She's so terrified of other people and opens spaces that she is transported there in something like a cage, separating her from a driver, her mother and three other patients — which is how she is overlooked when two armed men ambush her van, kidnap one of the patients and leave everyone else for dead. Mom's still hanging on, though, when Hazel emerges from the back, and the girl insists that she can inch her way five or six miles to a nearby settlement for help.

Grau and Thorne make us feel every baby step of that trip, applying sunstroke blurs to the image and struggling through tics and the self-control tactics Hazel uses to block out the things she fears. (That is, practically everything.) This should be enough drama, really, especially given the threat that the kidnappers (a pair of brothers resembling George and Lenny from Of Mice and Men) will realize they left a living witness and return to kill her. But screenwriter Evan M. Wiener stretches things by introducing a Huxley-spewing stranger whose acid damage lifts the movie's mental-impairment quota slightly over the breaking point. The pic recovers, though, building to a standoff that feels only moderately contrived.

Production company: The Archive

Cast: Bella Thorne, Kyra Sedgwick, Frank Grillo, Aaron Tveit, Francoise Arnaud

Director: Jorge Michel Grau

Screenwriter: Evan M. Wiener

Producers: Randy Manis, Christina Papagjika, Matthew Salloway

Executive producers: Jeffrey V. Mandel, Seth Renshaw, Ricky Tollman, Christine Vachon

Director of photography: Santiago Sanchez

Production designer: Bryce Perrin

Costume designer: Shaun Garcia

Editor: Erin Deck

Music: Matthew Harrold

Casting director: Angelique Midthunder

No rating, 95 minutes

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