Movie fatigue can be a serious problem. By watching too many movies in a day, the ability to appreciate and think about them is lost. Scenes and characters blend together, becoming a murky impression instead of anything specific. I cap my consumption at three a day – not counting short films – and still I detect similar patterns. That’s the case with Resolution and First Winter, which are both about young people who are stuck in a house in the woods. The former in a slow-burning thriller, the best film I’ve seen at the festival (so far), and the latter is ultimately less gripping.
Mike (Peter Cilella) is a determined best friend. He goes to a shack where his buddy Chris (Vinny Curran) is squatting. Chris is a strung-out addict, high on meth and suffering from psychotic delusions. Mike begs Chris to go to rehab. He refuses (they’ve been through this before). Mike, good friend that he is, hand-cuffs Chris to a pipe so he can detox. Together they go through the motions of helping an addict in withdrawal, except with visits from junkie friends and a pissed off property owner. With Chris stuck, Mike goes for walks through the hills and finds some weird stuff. There are videos of people who commit suicide, and blurry photos of dark rituals. Chris is too fucked up to notice, but the pair are being watched. Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead keep us guessing what is happening to them right until the final, haunting shot.
With creepy twists and plausible characters, Resolution is like what would happen if Michael Haneke directed a buddy comedy. Curran and Cilella have lived-in chemistry, and their easy rhythm suggests they have been friends for years. The addict story is where Benson and Moorhead find humor and pathos; Chris can be funny or desperate in his pleas with Mike, depending on what the scenes require. The mix of dramedy with horror also works on a meta-level, since Mike becomes convinced he and Chris are stuck in a narrative and the string-pullers require an ending. It’s heady stuff, yet Benson’s script veers from one tone to the other with ease. What helps preserve the movie’s grip are the effects, which are subtle and effective. Towards the end there is a creepy image that’s so well-timed that it literally sent a shiver down my spine. That sort of reaction is part of why I love going to the festivals like this. Amid predictable indie fare, something visceral comes along and movie fatigue becomes a distant memory. Resolution is the real deal.
I had a strange encounter the night before I saw First Winter, another indie thriller. It unintentionally shaped how I looked at the film. On the night I arrive in New York, I am at a bar with a movie critic buddy of mine. We overhear a woman say she’s organizing a party for the Tribeca Film Festival. There is a communal atmosphere at Tribeca, so I feel comfortable asking her what the party is for. I also say I’m a critic who’s covering the festival. She’s cagey and awkward, handling my question without much tact. She clearly does not want to talk to me or my buddy, but she finally blurts the party is for the guys who made First Winter. We get she wants to go about her business, but before she leaves, she turns around and asks us, “Do you know what Rilke said?”
I tell her I don’t.
“He said, ‘Works of art are of an infinite loneliness and with nothing so little to be reached as with criticism.’”
She leaves the bar, which suits me fine since I’m terrible at getting the last word. I’m not offended by the exchange, exactly, since nothing will shake my passion for what I do. Still, I joke with my buddy that I’m obviously going to rip the movie apart.
The Rilke quote is in my mind when the film starts. There is a long shot of a yoga instructor surveying his students. He tells them how to breathe and when to relax, giving the female students a little more attention. The group are on retreat at the Yogi’s house in the country, and for a while, everything is idyllic. The yogi fucks cute girls, another guy snorts heroin, and they gather every evening for chanting and organic salad. Then the power goes out. A radio broadcast gives snatches of information – perhaps there’s an emergency – and two guys see an explosion in the distance. It becomes clear the friends who went out for food are never coming back. The yogi tries to preserve order, but with food getting scarce, his students are getting desperate.
Written and directed by Benjamin Dickinson, another title for this movie could be “Hipster Armageddon.” In the first act, the characters are indulgent and self-absorbed in a familiar way. The yoga instructor does not seem to earn the philosophy he espouses, and the sex scenes are gratuitous past the point of eroticism. I’m not sure whether Dickinson intends us to hate these people, but the pretentious Rilke woman heightened my suspicions.
Still, the movie starts to work when things start to go wrong. Dickinson masterfully lets us see the danger while the characters dimly understand the situation. The gnawing inevitably of hunger and terror adds sinister atmosphere when they go through their routine, so otherwise typical scenes have an underlying edge. By the end, Dickinson shows his hand with a prescriptive message about the bond between serenity and suffering. It’s a hopeful theme, albeit familiar and just a little lazy. There are twenty or so minutes when First Winter is so damn good, not including a controversial deer-hunting moment, that its lifestyle-affirming conclusion disappoints by comparison.
First Winter may have its share of infinite loneliness, but when it loses its nerve, it stops short of becoming art.
shout out: BYT would like to thank YOTEL for being the official accommodation of BYT’s Tribeca Coverage