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(The 24th Annual Slamdance Film Festival ran January 19-25 in Park City, UT. Hammer to Nail has you covered and guarantees more coverage than any other site. Watch us work it!)

I freely admit that I have a strange obsession with cinematic chamber pieces. You know, those claustrophobic premises that trap all of its characters at the same location for the entirety of the film. Utilized primarily in the horror genre, dramatic directors have increasingly caught on to its effectiveness in heightening tension. As this cinematic trope has taught us, it is a barrel of laughs to watch conflicting personality traits have no option except to confront each other.

For writer-director Drew Britton’s feature length debut, Back at the Staircase, five distinctively different relatives (a remarkably entertaining ensemble cast of Jennifer Lafleur, Mickey O’Hagan, Stephen Plunkett, Leonora Pitts, and Logan Lark) are stuck in the same house while dealing with the hospitalization of their mother/aunt. They are all brought together for a celebration their mother/aunt had planned, and they must get the word out that the party has been cancelled. Luckily, most invitees seem to be aware that this family is bat shit crazy and had no intentions of attending anyway.

A healthy variety of personality types always helps to heighten this particular narrative trope. If the characters were all the same, that wouldn’t be very exciting, would it? They would all agree on what needs to be done and move on. Instead, with Back at the Staircase, everyone has drastically different opinions on everything. How do they stay calm and “normal?” How do they brace themselves for what is surely to come? And what do they do with the titular staircase?

In Britton’s capable hands, Back at the Staircase creates a pressure cooker that is primed to explode. This film personifies what you might expect when a group of family members who don’t get along are forced to remain in the same space for an extended period of time. (We’ve all been there, right?) To quote Harper Lee, “you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not.” I suspect Britton’s protagonists would prefer not to acknowledge each other, despite their inherent kinship.

– Don Simpson (@thatdonsimpson)

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