Narrative Feature/Indiana Spotlight
Director: Skyler Lawson
Premise: “Whelm” is a thriller set deep in the Great Depression where two estranged brothers get tangled in a rivalry between a legendary bank robber and an eccentric young criminal. Through a series of bizarre occurrences, they find they are part of a larger historic scheme.
Whelm is a very impressive piece of independent filmmaking for a variety of reasons. For starters, it’s a debut feature from a filmmaker who shows incredible promise as a storyteller in the film medium. It’s also a period piece set and filmed entirely in Wabash, Indiana on film, in just 14 days.
Filmmaker Skyler Lawson and his cast and crew certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves to make an Indiana-bred epic historical thriller. However, their passion, ambition, and talent is on full display as Whelm is a beautiful film with an intricate story that rewards your attention throughout it, provided you “pay attention to the details.”
The score is an intense companion to the tension on screen as single notes are struck and dragged out with increasing volume in particularly intense moments. The score has a Hans Zimmer feel in that regard, but carries its own unique signatures as the film progresses and the plot unfurls before us.
The music accompanies strong performances by the cast. In particular, Delil Baran’s performance as the eccentric young criminal Alexander Aleksy is phenomenal. Baran achieves maximum tension in the opening scene of the film, proving Aleksy to be a force to be reckoned with, despite (but also specifically because of) his calm tone and demeanor.
On the other side of the coin, Grant Schumacher’s performance as Jimmy is imposing and carries with it the mythic feel that his legendary outlaw character employs in the film. There are moments of quiet intensity with Jimmy, not unlike the calmly tense moments with Aleksy. But where Jimmy and Schumacher’s performance of him differs is in the subtle way he carries himself. Jimmy is imposing and the camera lingers on his stoic face as characters react to the sheer threat he presents. He is not always the stone face outlaw character, however. There are moments where he loses his cool and when that happens, he is even more of a threat. Schumacher’s intensity is a great counterbalance to Baran’s eccentricities with Aleksy. When the two are on screen together, it’s magnetic.
The cinematography is stunning as it captures a depression era Wabash, Indiana beautifully. There are shots of open fields, rivers, and sunsets that are simply gorgeous. The attention to detail in the costuming and set design really compliments the impressive cinematography as well.
The plot truly demands your attention and will reward you with solid turns in the plot and surprising reveals. Some plot developments work better than others and the film can be slightly hard to follow in parts, but if you are with it, it’s a very rewarding experience.
Showtimes at HIFF28
Sunday, Oct. 13 – 7:45pm – The Toby at Newfields
Thursday, Oct. 17 – 7:10pm – AMC Castleton Square