How We Got Away With It: Film Review

Courtesy of PR
Elliptical storytelling is both a strength and a weakness in a visually striking mystery thriller.

Actor Jon Lindstrom, a longtime castmember of "General Hospital," makes his feature directing debut with an ensemble drama set in Rochester, N.Y.

In How We Got Away With It, director Jon Lindstrom and his co-writers put a dark twist on the reunion-drama subgenre, focusing less on the usual relationship woes and life-stage angst than on a crime-in-the-making. The story, told with a bracing dose of sangfroid, revolves around a suicide and its apparent cover-up, and takes its time revealing how various characters are connected. Bringing together a group of 30-something friends during a summer weekend at a lake house, the film makes good use of its atypical upstate New York locale. There’s a leanness to the narrative that can be more frustrating than involving, but an assured visual style and keen attention to what’s unspoken keep the mystery percolating.

The movie, which is receiving a Los Angeles theatrical release along with its bow on VOD and a number of digital platforms, is a promising feature directing debut for Lindstrom, a longtime General Hospital castmember whose screenwriting credits include the Bruce Dern-Vera Farmiga heist pic The Hard Easy.

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Lindstrom plays the small but key role of a cop who’s snooping around the edges, while his screenplay collaborators, McCaleb Burnett and Jeff Barry, portray characters at the center of the ensemble. Burnett is Henry, host of the annual get-together and impulsive mastermind of a scheme whose purpose becomes clear late in the proceedings. Returning home from a brief stint in prison to discover, just before his friends arrive, that his sister, Sarah, has hanged herself in their well-appointed beachfront house, he puts an unsettling plan in motion.

The weekend of sun and fun is tinged with an ominous undertow as Henry enlists his friend Will (Barry) for late-night maneuvers that involve the corpse, which he’s hidden, and which zero in on Walter (Richard Bekins), the belligerent alcoholic who owns the restaurant where Henry works.

The burning question, of course, is why -- and with most of the pivotal conversations unfolding offscreen, that question is a fuse that keeps burning. The elliptical storytelling is refreshing in its refusal to spell things out, but it also can feel arbitrary. Important relationships take a bit too long to come into focus -- especially those between Henry, Sarah and Walter. It’s a choice that doesn’t so much enrich the story as distance the viewer, and undercuts the intended impact of final-act revelations.

The approach works well, though, as a way of exposing tensions among the group of friends. Lindstrom draws effective, understated performances from his cast, letting insecurities and betrayals break through the surface of laid-back celebration.

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As he should be, Burnett’s Henry is hard to read, but clearly a man who has earned the loyalty of the longtime friends he trusts with his plan: Will and Ronnie (Jacob H. Knoll), a recovering addict who keeps an interested newcomer (Brianne Moncrief) at a distance. Henry’s girlfriend (Cassandra Freeman, injecting warmth into the taut story) is similarly trying to connect with the distracted host, while Will’s partner (Mikal Evans) is hiding the news that she’s pregnant. As an unattached member of the group, Luke Robertson eyes his scheming friends with at least as much suspicion as Lindstrom’s cop, whose questionable methods finally disclose understanding and compassion.

The climactic crime transpires with a chilling matter-of-factness in a beach scene that’s among the strongest in cinematographer Michael Belcher’s fine work here with the Red One. The handsome and evocative opening-credits sequence, following Henry’s long walk from jail to the house on the water, is another highlight. Besides being an intriguing lead-in to disturbing events, it’s an eloquent place-setting sequence. The Rochester locations, including the Lake Ontario beachfront, have a freshness on the screen as unfamiliar movie settings. As with most elements of a story that never forces exposition into dialogue, the script doesn’t specifically name the place.

Lindstrom and Belcher use telling details well, including such sly touches as the neighborhood sign that reads “A Community That Cares” and the Gandhi T-shirt that Henry’s wearing when he hides his sister’s body. Costume designer Philip Heckman’s contributions, along with those of composer Peer Bazarini and editor Tony Randel, enhance the dark-sunny mood as the drama moves toward a final reckoning.

Opens: Friday, May 16 (Devolver Digital Films)

Production: La Vie Prods., Jailbreak Films

Cast: McCaleb Burnett, Jeff Barry, Mikal Evans, Brianne Moncrief, Jacob H. Knoll, Cassandra Freeman, Luke Robertson, Jon Lindstrom, Samantha Soule, Richard Bekins

Director: Jon Lindstrom

Screenwriters: Jeff Barry, McCaleb Burnett, Jon Lindstrom

Producers: Jeff Barry, R. Erin Craig, Jon Lindstrom

Director of photography: Michael Belcher

Music: Peer Bazarini

Costume designer: Philip Heckman

Editor: Tony Randel

No MPAA rating, 90 minutes

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