(Cameron Bruce Nelson’s debut feature Some Beasts made it’s debut at the 2015 Dallas International Film Festival where it won the award for Best Cinematography. Since then it’s been having a great festival run and can next be seen at the 2015 Sidewalk Film Festival.)
With much of independent film being urban in setting, it is refreshing when something comes along that gives a portrait of life far from the city that feels authentic. Cameron Bruce Nelson’s debut feature Some Beasts is populated with characters who live outside of mainstream American life, unconcerned with the hustling and distractions of consumerist culture. The film, like the lives of its characters, is slowly paced, minimalistic, and filled with the beauty of the natural world. Given these elements, it might have been easy for Nelson to have become lost in a haze of sub-Malickisms, but he never gives into the clichés we often associate with this kind of filmmaking.
Nelson’s film is built around the emotional journey of Sal (Frank Mosley, in one of his best performances to date), the caretaker of several farms in a small Appalachian community. Like his group of friends whom he visits regularly, Sal is a back-to-the-land type, and has dreams of building a home and raising a family on the piece of land where he lives. Sal is in a long-distance relationship with Rene (Heather Kafka), who lives in Texas and visits when she can. She shares similar dreams for her and Sal’s future, and in one scene they lie in bed discussing where and when they will build on the land. Rene suggests beginning the very next day — what else is there to do? Sal seems taken aback. Is he reluctant, or merely surprised at Rene’s assertiveness? The film doesn’t answer, more interested in preserving such mysteries instead.
Interspersed throughout the film are glimpses of one of the community’s oldest and most respected residents, the local artist A’court (A’court Bason, playing himself). While it’s never made explicit, we get the sense that A’court has lived his life in a way many of the local residents aspire to emulate. When A’court dies unexpectedly, Sal refrains from contacting the authorities, presuming that to have been A’court’s wishes. The death prompts a visit from A’court’s niece Anna (Lindsay Burge), whose interactions and disagreements with Sal comprise the final third of the film. This last stretch is the most subtle and interesting in the film — Anna’s counterculture ideals are not necessarily Sal’s, and their conflicting views set in motion the events that cause Sal to make a life-altering decision. The film’s final moments are an elegantly edited sequence of shots that perfectly conclude things with the same sense of mystery that pervades throughout. Again, Nelson doesn’t give all the answers, but allows the viewer the value of his or her own experience and interpretation.
Some Beasts is hardly the first film of its kind, but few recent independent films that touch upon similar territory have been done so well. Everything feels organically part of the larger whole —even seemingly trivial moments feel as though Nelson knew exactly their purpose (the film even earns its superb musical score courtesy of Stars of the Lid). This being Nelson’s debut, one hopes that he will continue down this path; regional films with this sort of depth and artistry are always a welcome addition to the canon of American independent cinema, and in a culture where everything is in danger of being co-opted, sorely needed.
— Michael McWay (@Grand_Epic)