BESIDE STILL WATERS
***1/2 (out of 5)
November 14, 2014
Beck Bennett as TOM
Will Brill as MARTIN
Brett Dalton as JAMES
Erin Darke as ABBY
Ryan Eggold as DANIEL
Jessy Hodges as CHARLEY
Britt Lower as OLIVIA
Reid Scott as HENRY
Directed by: Chris Lowell
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
About fifteen years ago, way back in my reckless youth (at least if one considers “youth” to be hovering around your 30th birthday), I took a crack at independent film. Much to my chagrin at the time, I was not discovered by Hollywood to become the next Kevin Smith or Robert Rodriguez. I had a good run in a limited sense, but family responsibilities and tightening funds pushed my career in another direction.
However, I did learn many things throughout those years. Along with the strong life lessons I carry today, I also learned that everyone – and I mean everyone – has a script they want you to read. (Of course, they rarely want honest feedback on these scripts; instead, they would prefer you to gush over the script as much as their darling silver-haired aunt does at family dinners.)
It seemed that a great majority of the scripts I read at that time revolved around a group who were friends in their formative years, reuniting for a weekend or an event. There was always various archetypes in the mix, including the lead character who is trying to get his life going in the right direction, the girl that got away and the mean-spirited lunkhead who has to learn his own set of lessons in the end.
It is because of my history with this common storyline (and the overwhelming trend of these stories to be insufferably bad) that I was a bit hesitant when “Beyond Still Waters” came across my desk. After all, on the surface, this is exactly what this movie appears to be, and the odds were not in its favor, considering its company. However, as I also learned from my experiences working both in the thick of film and on the receiving end, I can be pleasantly surprised when things go right for a change.
“Beside Still Waters” follows a group of friends who have grown apart since high school. The story centers around Daniel (Ryan Eggold), whose parents were unexpectedly killed in a car accident. As Daniel is getting their estate sorted out, he must sell their vacation cabin, and to say good-bye, he invites the old gang there for one last weekend of fun.
Of course, things are never the same as they are in high school. Everyone has moved on to do various things with their lives. One couple got married and is suffering a rough patch in their relationship. One of the gang is a hot reality TV star who acts like he’s better than the rest of them. Of course, the most awkward surprise for Daniel is when his old girlfriend Olivia (Britt Lower) shows up with her fiancé that no one expected.
The first half of “Beside Still Waters” is relatively standard, with decent performances and energy within the cast. First time writer/director Chris Lowell manages to balance the baggage the group brings to the cabin with some honest character moments, but the set up of these movies is not where their mettle is tested.
As the story moves on, the alcohol flows, and everyone seems to stumble into other’s behavioral blunder or deep, dark secret. Every manages to go through a significant, yet not unrealistic, life-changing moment that night. Some of these are pretty obvious (like a tryst between Daniel and Olivia), but others are actually somewhat creative and surprising (which I won’t spoil).
It’s what happens next that won me over for this movie. Rather than the second act rolling into a round of infighting and screaming, “Beside Still Waters” actually gains some character steam. Lowell manages to put a variety of challenges in front of these people that are not uncommon in real life, and they handle them like actual human being rather than stereotypes and two dimensional words on a page.
Rather than this weekend becoming a powder keg for a weekend of fights, this sets the stage for people to confront realistic issues and ultimately come to terms with their own foibles. The film could have easily devolved into a destruction of friendships, but Lowell resisted that path, and he made the film better for it.
In particular, there are two moments that really impressed me. One was the morning-after reveal, which is handled with some clever editing and some solid comedic timing. It was nice to see things get lighthearted just as the story was threatening to become grim. The other impressive moment comes in the reveal for one of the character’s behavior. It’s not presented as a deus ex machina solution, nor is it excused. Instead, it is presented as a character trait that (I’m sad to say) I’ve seen in more than one person I’ve encountered in real life.
This all makes “Beside Still Waters” an honest film that thinks outside of the box for a story that could have easily been a rehash of something I’ve seen many time before.