Indy Film Fest: The Things We’ve Seen
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“Sheriff, if I was to put out half the abuse that was put into me, I would’ve burnt this town down a long time ago.”
An evocative American Gothic drama, “The Things We’ve Seen” examines a rural family torn by bad choices and long absences. Written and directed by T.A. Manchester and shot in and around Crown Point and Lowell, Indiana, it features some pretty gorgeous cinematography by Steven Turco and generally strong performances from the cast.
Manchester has an interesting, minimalist storytelling style. He provides the least amount of backstory and setup possible, throwing us right into a tale of violence and resentment, and expecting the audience to pick up the important pieces along the way. For the most part, we do.
Randy Ryan gives a haunting performance as Rayford Boem, a country singer turned mill worker turned labor organizer and criminal. Rayford has just led a strike against the mill where two-thirds of the adults in the county were employed. Things went bad, the mill was burnt down and Rayford, his brother and a few others ended up in a shootout with the law.
Most people think he set fire to the mill, so civic feelings toward Rayford are low. When it’s announced the company will not rebuild the mill, it essentially shuts down the entire local economy. Stores close overnight. The simple folk pack their stuff up into the back of their trucks and head out for greener pastures, like modern-day Joads.
Rayford’s family has deep roots here, and stays. They’ve not seen much of him over the past few years — first all those years playing music on the road, followed by strife with his wife, Ivory Joy (a strong Shani Salyers Stiles). The teen boys, Reagan (Jarrett Maier) and Neely (Noah McCarty-Slaughter), feel an irresistible pull toward their dad, while also resenting him for lighting out.
The local sheriff (John D. Carver), is an authoritarian bully who treats the county like his personal fiefdom. He promises to put Rayford down should he ever catch up to him.
Hanging around the edges is Hank (Roger Welp), the preacher who’s also had his eye on Ivory Joy. He’s not a bad sort — he’d probably be a much more stabilizing force in the Boems’ lives than Rayford — but conflict between the two men seems inevitable.
Reagan spies a clue in the store where the shootout occurred, and uses it to track down his father and uncle, Rick, (Jordon Hodges, who brings a mournful tone to his performance). Rick is badly hurt, so they bring him back to the house to heal. This affords time enough for Rayford to try to make some sort of amends for the husband and father he’s been.
The dialogue is occasionally a bit forced, and also hard to understand. (It sounds like they actually used most of the on-set recording, instead of replacing it during post-production like most feature films do.)
Still, “The Things We’ve Seen” is moody and contemplative without ever dragging its feet. I might have wished the bookends of the story were pushed back further, so we could learn more about how Rayford went from being the favorite son to black sheep of the town. It’s a compelling journey even in its truncated form.