Will Shipe looks lost through much of “Union Bridge.”
He’s a grown man who still listens to his mamma and worries about secrets safely tucked away in his hometown.
Or are they?
It’s a thoughtful premise, and that’s before we see a stunted soul who can’t stop digging for buried treasure… or whatever lurks just beneath the surface of this small town. The questions stack up long and tall, and before the final reveal we fear what awaits us can’t fully justify this untidy tale.
Scott Friend stars as Will, part of an “important” family hunkered down near the Mason Dixon line. Will’s return stirs up his small, tight-knit community, from old friends to his unctuous mother (Elisabeth Noone of “The Wire” fame).
Will looks as lost as Benjamin Braddock in “The Graduate,” but we’re never told why. He’s understandably sad to see his childhood chum Nick (Alex Breaux, “Depraved”) become the town vagabond in his absence.
Poor Nick trudges out to the neighboring fields each night to dig for something important. What is it? Why is he obsessed with the task? And how does this tie into the film’s Civil War-era flashbacks?
What about Mary (Emma Duncan), Nick’s cousin? She spends her days by a local lake, stirring up rumors of witchcraft. Nick and Mary quickly connect, but there’s something heavy, and joyless, between them.
The mysteries hardly stop there. Yet “Union Bridge” isn’t captivating enough to make them all matter.
Will’s mother holds the key to the film, and she’s asked to shoulder too much of that burden. Area townsfolk come and ago, but they don’t leave enough of an imprint. That means even more work for Noone, and it’s too much for any one actor to tackle.
Breaking Glass Pictures has acquired North America rights to the Lynchian southern gothic thriller Union Bridge, the debut feature from writer/director Brian Levin. Available on #DVD and #VOD 19 May. https://t.co/CEdAGYw728 pic.twitter.com/7Kt7W9gKyF
— Attack from Planet B (@attackplanetb) May 10, 2020
Buried secrets abound in “Union Bridge,” but first-time writer/director Brian Levin isn’t keen on sharing them. We’re asked to string the missing pieces together, and at times the burden overwhelms. The Will-Mary bond is palpable, and the most concrete element of the film. Still, the movie expends too much screen time on their “getting to know you” montages.
Levin creates an impressive atmosphere from start to finish, aided by a strong score tasked with the emotional blanks. His eye for small town life is similarly strong, and after just a few minutes of “Union Bridge” you’ll feel like you’ve known this town all your life.
Yet as much as Levin holds back he should have stayed the course in the third act. We’re finally privy to some, but far from all, of what’s buried beneath this town. The reveal isn’t as revelatory, or satisfying, as what the film demands.
HiT or Miss: “Union Bridge” offers an uneasy blend of supernatural storytelling and small town secrets that’s ambitious but exasperating.