'If There's A Hell Below': Slamdance Review

If There's A Hell - H 2016
Courtesy of Slamdance Film Festival
A visually stirring, if verbally stilted, first feature.

A journalist and his would-be source meet up off the beaten path in this atmospheric thriller.

A particularly desolate stretch of rural Washington provides the atmospheric backdrop for If There’s A Hell Below, a spare, subdued thriller about a not-so-clandestine meeting in broad daylight between a newspaper reporter and a woman who may be willing to leak vital information on her hard drive.

If it hadn’t been for the opening scene, which suggests there was ample cause for all her precautions, it would have been understandable to take Debra (Carol Roscoe), a self-described “senior information processing engineer” for a raging paranoid.

But, as ambitious young journalist, Abe (Conner Marx) will soon discover, there’s a creeping threat lurking in those sun-drenched, isolated environs.

This first feature by Nathan Williams, co-written with his brother, Matthew, makes evocative use of all that vast emptiness, with allusions to existential elements in the likes of North by Northwest and No Country for Old Men

While the script, which name-checks Edward Snowden and includes deliberately banal monologues about caterpillars and box turtles, occasionally finds the actors struggling to inhabit all the dramatic wide open spaces, the film works best in its moments of silence, with cinematographer Christopher Messina’s striking images creating a palpable tension in that stifling stillness.

Production company: Erasmus Films, Zombie Orpheus Productions

Cast: Carol Roscoe, Conner Marx, Mark Carr, Paul Budraitis

Director: Nathan Williams

Screenwriters: Nathan Williams, Matthew Williams

Producers: Nathan Williams, Trevor Joyce, Justin Schardin, Conner Marx

Executive producers: Josh Bain, Maura Clevenger, Jeff Parks, Brad Roberts, Mark Williams

Director of photography: Christopher Messina

Production designer: Gwendolyn Hamilton

Costume designer:

Editor: Nathan Williams

Venue: Slamdance Film Festival

94 minutes