'Bullitt County': Film Review

Doesn't fire blanks.

Four old friends reunite for a beer-drinking excursion that goes awry in David McCracken's Southern Gothic thriller.

As movies like Deliverance and Winter's Bone have demonstrated, not much good happens in the backwoods. David McCracken's indie Southern Gothic thriller follows in that venerable tradition, and while it offers more style than substance, Bullitt County delivers an engrossing tale with enough twists to satisfy thrill-loving audiences. If anything, it offers too many twists, proving unable to live up to its considerable narrative ambitions.

The film is most effective in its quieter first half, depicting the 1977 reunion of four former drinking buddies who decide to re-create a decade-earlier beer-hopping crawl along Kentucky's Bourbon Trail. The occasion is the impending marriage of Gordie (Mike C. Nelson), a Vietnam vet who's literally kidnapped from his home by his friends Robin (Jenni Melear); Keaton (McCracken), also Robin's boyfriend; and soft-spoken Brit Wayne (Napoleon Ryan).

The excursion doesn't begin auspiciously, with the alcoholic Gordie now on the wagon and the quartet discovering that their favorite beer joint has been turned into an upscale wine bar. And when a male patron drunkenly attempts to put the moves on Robin, Gordie's intensely violent overreaction indicates that his wartime stint may have affected him more than his friends realized.

During a tender encounter with a young woman (Alysia Livingston) he knew when she was a little girl, Gordie learns about the "Bullitt Treasure," a legendary stash of money supposedly buried in the woods of the land owned by the family for whom the county was named. He persuades the others to join him on an impromptu overnight treasure-hunting excursion. Shortly after they arrive, the group meets an elderly couple (Richard Riehle, Dorothy Lyman) who invite them home for dinner. The veteran character actors Riehle and Lyman steal the film in their brief screen time. You'll recognize their weathered faces, if not their names.  

Tensions flare during the evening, especially when the subject of the Bullitt Treasure comes up. "Anything that's buried out there is meant to stay buried," says the old man, ominously. By the time the evening concludes, guns have been drawn and all hell has broken loose. To say more about what happens afterward would be too much of a spoiler, but suffice it to say that surprises are revealed about several of the characters and their motivations and that not everyone makes it out alive.

Writer-director McCracken displays a sure sense of cinematic style in this sophomore effort, using split screen and other offbeat visual choices to enhance the tense storyline. And he's elicited terrific performances from his ensemble, especially Melear as the tough, resourceful Robin and Nelson as the emotionally volatile Gordie. The latter is particularly effective in combining humor and menace in his portrayal to galvanizing effect.

Bullitt County ultimately bites off more than it can chew, especially with some ineffective and poorly staged flashbacks that prove more confusing than enlightening. And the plot twists feel too contrived to be fully convincing. But despite those flaws, it's an impressive low-budget indie effort, boasting a strong sense of atmosphere that marks its writer-director-actor as a talent to watch.

Distributor: Mr. Pictures
Cast: Mike C. Nelson, Jenni Melear, David McCracken, Napoleon Ryan, Dorothy Lyman, Richard Riehle
Director-screenwriter: David McCracken
Producer: Josh Riedford
Executive producers: Kathy Riedford, Richard Rieford
Director of photography: Sean McDaniel
Production designer: Mollie Wartelle
Editor: Kevin Del Colle
Composer: Aaron Riedford
Costume designer: Gwyn Conaway

98 min.