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Sequoia: SXSW Review

Sequoia Trailer Still - H 2014

The Bottom Line

An unsensational story about contemplating suicide.

Venue

South By Southwest Film Festival, Narrative Spotlight

Cast

Aly Michalka, Dustin Milligan, Todd Lowe, Demetri Martin, Sophi Bairley, Joey Lauren Adams, Lou Diamond Phillips

Director

Andy Landen

Aly Michalka plays a woman bent on killing herself before cancer does the job.

AUSTIN — A young woman's suicide plans go awry against an awe-inspiring backdrop in Andy Landen's Sequoia, a romantic two-hander whose background action (in which her family chases in an attempt to stop her) sometimes feels like an unwanted distraction. Aly Michalka and Dustin Milligan work well together, getting over a couple of self-conscious moments in Andrew Rothschild's dialogue, telling a story that would likely resonate with many young moviegoers.

STORY: Space Station 76 SXSW Film Review

Michalka's Riley, facing a diagnosis of a late-stage cancer whose treatment options are both grisly and unpromising, has decided to kill herself on a mountaintop in the Sequoia National Forest. She shoots video of everything from her final doctor's visit to the details of her pharmaceutical suicide cocktail, intending to leave a bitter last testament to induce guilt in the self-centered mother (Joey Lauren Adams) who abandoned her to the care of an alcoholic father (Todd Lowe).

But sister Van (Sophi Bairley), who was supposed to assist in this plan, gets derailed and winds up spilling the beans to her parents; along with Mom's new boyfriend (a stiff shrink played by Demetri Martin), they all head off on a rescue mission, so full of familial bickering, one wonders what anyone really hopes to save.

Meanwhile, Riley has met a good Samaritan: Ogden (Milligan), a Christian preparing for a "Sunshine Ministry" trip to the Third World, makes an easy target for the snarky girl's teasing as he gives her a ride into the woods. But he's sufficiently smitten that he can't let her get away, even after he learns the nature of the trip he's enabling.

Ogden surely harbors hopes that God will intervene here, but the film doesn't lead viewers on in that way. A quiet, well-calibrated scene at a redwood believed to have sacred powers (featuring a poignant and nicely played cameo by Lou Diamond Phillips) is about the closest it gets to suggesting we should hope for Riley's miraculous survival. Elsewhere, Landen is content to soak up the moments of beauty to be found in her final day.

Production Company: Honora Productions

Cast: Aly Michalka, Dustin Milligan, Todd Lowe, Demetri Martin, Sophi Bairley, Joey Lauren Adams, Lou Diamond Phillips

Director: Andy Landen

Screenwriter: Andrew Rothschild

Producers: Giles Andrew, Ashleigh Phillips, Jessica Latham, Charles Denton

Executive producers: Roxanne Roberts, William Graves, Thomas Agosto

Director of photography: Stephen Ringer

Production designer: Bradley Rubin

Music: Mark Noseworthy

Costume designer: Elise Velasco

Editor: Franklin Peterson

No rating, 86 minutes