by Patrick Bromley
Welcome to Leith (2015, dir. Michael Beach Nichols & Christopher K. Walker) This excellent and understated documentary focuses on the small town of Leith, North Dakota, with a population of somewhere between 20-30 people. Needless to say, it is quiet. Into the town moves Craig Cobb, a white supremacist and evil son of a bitch who starts buying up land in the hopes of creating his own community of racist shitheads. The town is none too pleased with this development and a conflict arises between Cobb and his crew of garbage people and the residents of Leith. This is a fascinating movie about ideology, community and tolerance. It's frustrating as hell, but also totally compelling.
The Keeping Room (2015, dir. Daniel Barber) This indie western (released by Drafthouse Films, so you know it's worth seeing) stars Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld as sisters trying to protect their land from two former Confederate soldiers (Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller) who are on their way home from losing the war and are on a path of rape, murder and destruction. This is a different kind of western than we're used to, not only because it's told from the perspective of women but because it approaches issues of race and masculinity from a unique angle. The landscapes are beautiful, the performances very good (even Sam Worthington!). It works as a tense western thriller, but works even better as a meditation on the forging of the American frontier.
Ava's Possessions (2016, dir. Jordan Galland) I just talked about this one on the podcast this week, discussing how it doesn't all work but that the premise is so inspired that it's still worth a look. Louisa Krause plays a young woman who, as the film opens, has a demon exorcised from her body and must now deal with the repercussions of the things she did while under the influence of possession. What begins as a horror comedy with a fresh take on a very well-worn genre loses its way eventually, but there are enough ideas, good performances and gorgeous art direction (love that neon pink) to carry us through the bumpy spots. I wish the whole thing was as good as that first 30 minutes.
Submerged (2015, dir. Steven C. Miller) This was one of two movies that Steven C. Miller released at the end of last year (the other was Extraction with Gina Carano and Bruce Willis and Gina Carano), and while it's got its share of problems, it's a pretty good action thriller about a group of people trapped in a limousine underwater. The promising premise is unfortunately abandoned in the third act, but Miller does a great job keeping things tense and interesting despite the limitations placed upon him. He's such a talented director. I can't wait to see him get a big budget and a huge opportunity.