A lawman seeking redemption can't seem to escape sin in Ed Gass-Donnelly's haunting, rural drama. A showcase for actor Peter Stormare, this modest Canadian import makes its US theatrical debut after spending nearly a year making the festival rounds, picking up a number of prizes, including the FIPRESCI critics' prize at the Torino International Film Festival and directing honors at the Phoenix and Ibiza Film Festivals. Fans of character-driven drama and enigmatic stories alike will find plenty to love in this evocative tale—at least those fans that live in the handful of cities where Small Town Murder Songs will play in limited release.
The church deacon (Vladimir Bondarenko) tells Walter (Stormare), the newest member of his flock, "You can't choose who you are, but you can choose to act against your impulses." Walter is trying to do just that. First he gets baptized and then begins a relationship with sweet, devout waitress Sam (Martha Plimpton). In a tiny farming community where Mennonites makes up a sizeable portion of the population, Walter's behavior has been a scandal and he's trying hard to change that. When a body is discovered by the town lake, the subsequent investigation only reinforces how hard it is for him to leave his old habits, haunts and acquaintances behind.
Gass-Donnelly directs a strong cast. Aside Stormare and Plimpton are Jill Hennessy as Walter's bitter ex-girlfriend Rita, Stephen Eric McIntyre as Rita's new main sleaze and Aaron Poole is Jim, Walter's family man partner. But Stormare dominates every frame. Flashbacks reveal the brutal creep that Walter once was, which only accentuates the poignancy of his current situation. He is a man living with regret, waging a constant battle against his own nature and searching for forgiveness and grace. Stormare delivers a tremendous performance, completely inhabiting the character.
The Ontario location, which is actually three separate locales all gorgeously shot by cinematographer Brendan Steacy, is a strong character in the film and seems to obscure a creeping rot behind a curtain of serene rural beauty. Bruce Peninsula's soundtrack is a potent collection of songs that reflect both Walter's pain and the tragedy that has befallen the town. This is a very small movie, simply told and only 75 minutes long, but between Stormare's performance, the visual splendor and the atmospheric music, it achieves a kind of grandeur.
Distributor: Monterey Media
Cast: Peter Stormare, Jill Hennessy, Martha Plimpton, Stephen Eric McIntyre
Director/Screenwriter: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Producer: Ed Gass-Donnelly, Lee Kim
Rating: R for some violence, disturbing images, a scene of sexuality, nudity and language.
Running time: 75 min.
Release date: May 27 ltd.