Congratulations!: AFI Fest Review

Here’s a case where less talk and more action would hardly have salvaged the outcome.

John Curran and Adam Fristoe co-star in Mike Brune’s gently absurdist comedy.

An attempt at wryly dark comedy that quickly goes almost entirely opaque, writer-director Mike Brune’s debut feature would appear to have few options beyond sympathetic festivals and theatrical one-night stands. Choosing the disappearance of a child as the film’s premise is the first misstep, even if the intention is to highlight the occasionally unfocused hysteria that may surround some such situations.

Detectives Skok (John Curran) and Houlihan (Adam Fristoe) from the missing persons bureau quickly corral the case, intently questioning the parents and siblings of seven-year-old Paul Gray (Preston Kelly), including his younger brother, who’s not much more than a toddler. When it becomes apparent that Skok fervently believes that Paul has literally vanished in his own home, the absurdity of the situation is so severely underplayed that any latent humor quickly drains from the narrative.

After what seems like half the police force moves into the Grays' house, setting up a command center in the basement and deputizing Paul’s brothers to continue the search for him, a thin vein of wry humor eventually emerges -- but it’s tenuous at best, often descending into repetitive situations and all-out irrationality, as Skok’s behavior becomes implausibly bizarre. In fact, Skok and Houlihan appear to have been conceived without regard to motivation or backstory, leaving the actors to unevenly attempt gentle parody of what’s already an uncomfortable premise.

For an entire cast and crew to devote production resources to such a shaky scenario, which may have initially looked good on paper, is almost as disconcerting as the film’s feckless ineffectuality. Although writer-director Brune clearly knows his way around an indie production -- making creative use of the single-family home that serves as the film’s principal location -- there's nothing about his film, other than its distinct narrative torpor, to distinguish it from dozens of similarly conceived low-budget efforts. 

Venue: AFI Fest

Production companies: Pop Films, Fake Wood Wallpaper

Cast: John Curran, Adam Fristoe, Rhoda Griffis, Robert Longstreet

Director/screenwriter: Mike Brune

Producers: Alex Orr, Alexander Motlagh

Director of photography: J. Christopher Campbell

Production designer: Aimee Holmberg

Costume designer: Karen Freed

Editors: Adam Pinney, Michael Goldberg, Mike Brune

Music: Thomas Barnwell, Ian Deaton

Not rated, 90 minutes