Down Down the Deep River
R1 - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (16th September 2017).
The Film

Nostalgia can be a strong muse and that is what led to the creation of this film. Will Sheff, lead singer for the band, Okkervil River, channels this feeling for the 80ís and the films of that period into this short film. Two young boys (Dustin Courmoyer and Griffin Gamache), share a bond through their love of drawing, science fiction films, and the woods in this almost wordless film. Set in 1987 in rural Meridian, New Hampshire, this is the recreation of the directorís childhood memories. The plot, which is very much undefined, is that the two boys, one an isolated loner, the other a new comer to town, quickly become friends and meet an imaginary creature in the woods. The film is not dialogue driven, but is essentially a mood piece, that uses music and imagery to move the film forward. I can understand what the director was trying to achieve through this film, but I believe that he did not accomplish what he had in mind, even though there obviously was a lot of effort put into trying to recapture a magical time in the past. Very few films manage to do what Sheff was attempting to do, and Rob Reinerís film "Stand by Me" (1986), based on a Stephen King novella, "The Body", accomplished that, but that film featured some major Hollywood money behind it and was a polished production.

It is obvious that this film was a labor of love for all involved, but especially director Will Sheff and the filmís producer/cinematographer Johnny North. Listening to the voice over narrative with the duo, Sheff provides much information regarding the props used in the film, including many personal possessions of his own from his childhood, all which give the film a specific authenticity regarding the time invoked. I was reminded of several of Ray Bradburyís stories as I watched this film because many of his works focused on a certain time in the authorís childhood as well. The problem overall is trying to capture on film what is in essence a feeling or an idea regarding something that has happened in the past. The filmmakers tried their hardest to portray a period of time that has passed us by: video games of a certain era, Walkmanís and cassette recorders instead of iPods and iPhones, VCRís and videotapes instead of DVDís, even the films that the boys watch while drawing their aliens is a cheesy poorly done Korean animation. The whole product screams that we are in the 80ís and the production values of the boyís world is spot on, and the two leads are excellent. The cinematography is interesting with many scenes taking place outside in the woods that Sheff played in as a child. As an experiment in trying to reproduce a specific feeling through the use of storytelling and music, the film generally succeeds, but I still believe that it falls short of being a complete success. Perhaps it was the lack of dialogue that distanced me from completely believing in the product as a whole; the two boys are shown doing a number of things both together and alone, but the lack of dialogue bothered me in some regard. Kids being what they are, especially boys, are loud and gregarious. These two pre-teens are more self-absorbed and perhaps that is the filmís weakness.

This film was sourced by many fans of the band Okkervil River through a Kickstarter fund raising program and fans of Sheff and his music will no doubt be pleased to see the directorís vision reaching fruition. The soundtrack was produced with care and music was provided by LoveStreams; Sheff speaks in depth about recording external crowd dialogue and outdoor sounds on the voice over narrative track.

It is obvious that Sheff is a musician and he is in tuned with the use of music throughout the production. He speaks of the subtle variations that are used of the main theme song and how they change throughout the film. The changing of the seasons are also a theme that is focused on in the film and we experience the span of a complete year in the lead characters life. Throughout the film is an overall feeling of mild despair, a yearning for the past and an invocation of wanting to relive the time again. Ultimately the director acknowledges that he was feeling an unresolved yearning for these childhood years and that inevitably he has exorcised these demons and made peace with the feelings. Sheff comments in an Austin Chronicle interview "It summed up something I wanted to say about my whole life, about my childhood and my adulthood and my friends and my town. That (film) is supposed to feel happy and sad, like my childhood."

Video

The packaging states the film as being in 1.78:1 widescreen, in fact it's actually 1.90:1 widescreen anamorphic, the overall production is pleasing to the eye, with plenty of outdoor scenes and a generous palette of browns, tans and greens. Interior shots are moody and help convey the feelings of helplessness.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. A rich 5.1 Dolby mix of environmental soundscape, musical tracks, and very little dialogue. Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired.

Extras

The features include an audio commentary by writer/director Will Sheff and producer Johnny North, voiceover narrative that covers the making of the film.

"Behind the Scenes" featurette (25:00), the director and cast members discuss the film.

Deleted scenes (5:30), these are cut scenes from the final film.

Music videos, 17 videos included on the disc from the band Okkervil River.

"Read-Along Adventure Book and Recording" feature (42:00), is a feature that plays alongside the film.

Theatrical trailer (1:33).

Comes packaged with a twenty-four page "Read Along Adventure Book" booklet.

Overall

This film is a labor of love by Will Sheff and his friends, this short film tries to express a certain period of nostalgia for the past, specifically 1987 in his hometown of Meridian, New Hampshire.

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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