Directed by: Michael Stevantoni
A while back, we reviewed a film from #StaceyStone called Unaccountable which tackled the shameful state of Salton Sea in California. A once prosperous resort town is now a tragic and desolate location. This location becomes the setting in indie film Salton Sea where the marriage of the central characters looks to be just as tragic and desolate.
Joel Bissonnette plays Brian, a guy somewhat in the throes of a midlife crisis. Dispirited with the state of his life, the one glimmer of hope he has (a new job offer across the country in Washington DC) seems to be tarnished with uncertainty, as his wife Ramona (Keylor Leigh) seems adamant that she and her daughter (April Marshall-Miller) won't be coming with him. Attempting to restore their connection and come to a suitable resolution, Brian whisks Ramona off on a spontaneous trip to the place of their honeymoon, the literally crumbling Salton Sea.
A sumptuous slow-burn, director and co-writer Michael Stevantoni let's the central character (from a novel by George McCormick) dangle in the air throughout the indie movie. Brian is the audience's focal point, presented to the viewer as a complex beast riddled with anxiety, desperation, anger, and indeed a degree of hope. His choices throughout the film, such as lying to his wife or overindulging at his local watering hole with the owner (Olivia May), become etched in his skin as he tries to determine if his dad was right all along and that he is indeed a “good man”.
Brian’s story is punctuated with numerous news features on the DC sniper of 2002 and the War on Terror. This historical narration is not just for period setting (the flip phones can do that) and instead enhance the plot. Lives hanging in the balance of a new world order and the contemplation of such widespread coverage of a “threat” to patriotism make Brian even more uncertain about his destiny and integrity, and angry about the way it seems to be dictating his future (with DC looking like a very unsafe place to be).
The #cinematography is absolutely breathtaking. The use of this barren location with all its forsaken charm brilliantly encapsulates the tone of the story and allows the relationship between Brian and Ramona to become a glaring main attraction. As they wistfully explore the barely populated Salton Sea area, stopping irregularly for smoking and distractions, their failing partnership becomes engulfed by the unnatural and eerie ghost town that once thrived.
A soul-searcher of a movie that beguiles with its aesthetics as much as it depresses with its story. Incredible performances from Bissonnette and Leigh make it a journey into marital ambivalence that is worth taking.