'Hidden Light': Film Review

A high-minded but plodding ensemble morality tale.

Aaron Kamp's feature debut is an Aussie meditation on guilt, vengeance and God.

Drug dealers, adulterers and guilt-plagued priests weave a familiar narrative web in Hidden Light, Aaron Kamp's interlaced-stories drama from Australia. Earnest and serious-minded but never really approaching the level of the story-dense dramas that clearly inspired it, the picture proves stiffly unconvincing long before it reveals a divine-intervention theme that would likely present a problem for many American art house patrons. Theatrical prospects are slim, but with persistence the film could reach a sliver of the faith-centric audience on video.

Though the ensemble really has no lead, the story's moral center is Jack Jovcic's Jovan, a reformed drug dealer who now serves as apprentice priest in a conservative Christian church. Secretly, he beats himself with a cat o' nine tails as penance for his crimes, but even in public life, his self-sacrificing ways are obvious enough to draw "give yourself a break" pep talks from fellow believers. "You try to help everyone — atone for your past mistakes," a fellow priest notes helpfully.

Drago (Troy Coward), a member of Jovan's congregation, is a drug dealer who, upon learning he's going to be a father, wants to leave the game behind. But when he goes to boss Savor (Jag Pannu), he's told he'll only be out when he's dead. (The boss's dialogue — "You are my best dealer. You make me a lot of money" — doesn't exactly ring with authenticity.) Knowing Jovan's past, Drago goes to him in hopes of some strong-arm help, but Jovan refuses to resort to violence.

Meanwhile, neglectful husband Jacob (Jeremy Levi) is heartbroken to come home and find that his wife has died of an overdose while entertaining another man. (As she expires in his arms, a timer on the kitchen microwave blinks the word "end.") Assuming the vanished lover gave her the drugs that killed her, he begins a vigilante-detective campaign that will have him crossing paths with Drago and Javon, along with barflies and an old flame who now sings for her supper.

On screen, all this plays more like a diagram for a morally complex multi-threaded drama than an actual movie. Though competent in technical aspects, the pic's third-hand script and uninspired direction make it hard to invest in the heavy weight each character carries around with him. Midway through, the film segues from observing a deeply religious man to embracing its own evangelism. Jovan's dialogue starts to thicken with platitudes like "the light always shines in the darkness" and "sometimes, the things that hold the most value are the things we can't see"; and he starts, via interactions with his dying mother and an old family friend, to receive messages from the beyond.

God's assistance will grow more overt in the final scenes, in ways that will only be persuasive to those who already believe fairly strongly in Jovan's variety of interventionist deity. Here, Kamp has taken a great deal of time pointing all his key players toward a standoff, only to set his pen down and let the Almighty work everything out.

Production company: Small Voice Films
Distributor: Indie Rights
Cast: Jack Jovcic, Jeremy Levi, Troy Coward, Jag Pannu, Sharnya Thomson, Murray Dowsett
Director-screenwriter-editor: Aaron Kamp
Producers: Aaron Kamp, Roslyn Park
Executive producers: Nick Agostino, Saranjit Singh Ahluwalia, John Mijacika, Jag Pannu
Director of photography: Joel Crane
Production designer: Daniel Ampuero
Composer: Jamie Murgatroyd

92 minutes