Arushi Sinha - 54 weeks ago
The way Uncle John, an indie gem, captures two different worlds living a couple hours away from each other makes it an interesting and riveting watch. The thriller has influences of David Lynch plastered all over and that’s only because Erik Crary, co-writer of the film honed his skill under the tutelage of David Lynch.
It’s difficult to bracket Uncle John in a genre - to some it could be a dark comedy, to few it could be a rom com while others might prefer calling it a sleepy thriller. The beauty of this film lies in the ease with which it juggles up multiple genre. Films made for TV often fall under the radar in visibility and publicity. Uncle John (2015), an American film is an ideal case of this. Starring John Ashton, a familiar face from Beverly Hills Cop and Beverly Hills Cop 2, in the titular role, this film combines two genres - thriller and romantic comedy with panache. The final outcome is an entertaining watch that is centered subtly on the consequences of bullying and on taking on a bully. Tapping into small town relationships and their complex dynamics, in the words of the film’s director, Uncle John is about generational differences and conflicting personal choices and belief.
(A still from Uncle John)
In recent memory, conflicting beliefs have driven relevant and entertaining films in the USA. Lady Bird, the Oscar nominated performance by Saoirse Ronan, deals with the near impossible dream of a young girl hailing from a debt ridden middle class family of joining an Ivy league school. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is about the anger and grief of a small town mother that loses her only child to a random, violent criminal act.Uncle John is not quite in that league. The film was made on a shoestring budget with high end ARRI cameras which were rented after they had been used to shoot Iron Man. The limited budget of the film, ensured that both Steven and Erik were well prepared of any eventuality. Steven ensured that the shooting dates of the film were locked months in advance so that they knew exactly what was required at every location. He even drew up as many as 1600 storyboards with the help of an artist – breaking down every scene of the film. So while it’s not a big production, it was put together with impressive production values and a cast of experienced actors. Its story is applicable to shocking hidden realities of multiple small towns and cities.
(Director Steven Piet during the shooting of Uncle John)
The Film Stage had included Uncle John in its list of best directorial debuts of 2015 along with directors of Mustang, Partisan, Son of Saul and Slow West. That’s no mean achievement. Steven Piet, who learnt the ropes of filmmaking at a Georgia film school, directed this film for Erik Crary (also the co-writer on the film). Both are young professionals with extensive experience in popular televisions shows. With Uncle John, they intertwine mixed emotions, unexpected incidents to create a gripping story. Shot in just 16 days on a micro-budget, and filmed at non descript real locations, this movie is full of surprises. Predicting its plot becomes a challenge, and keeping up with its twin narratives - that of Uncle John trying to conceal a murder in a small town, and of an unexpected visit from a loving nephew and his new girlfriend- is what makes the film interesting.
The film is heavily influenced by David Lynch school of filmmaking and that shade has been provided by Erik Crary who became David's assistant when he was a mere 23 and continued to work for him for next eight years. Erik started working for the director when post-production work on Mulholland Drive was about to start. In an earlier interview Erik had mentioned that, “My time with David was an influence from the earliest stages of Uncle John, and it is still a daily influence.”
With Uncle John’s inadvertent murder of a local bully opening the film in it’s very first scene, the parallel romance building up between his nephew Ben and a co-worker that he is attracted to is a sudden pivot. It is not until they decide to take an impromptu trip to Uncle John’s farmhouse in Wisconsin when the two plots finally merge together to form one major plot. It’s climax leaves the viewer with one major thought, ‘what just happened’? In its ability to surprise Uncle John goes beyond standard formats of TV movies. It also serves as a symbolic reminder that all is not how it seems, and sometimes, you may not really know the people that you think you do. Uncle John is a sincere, sweet ageing citizen of a Wisconsin small town, till the murderer in him comes to the fore. In the film he is shown as someone who doesn’t kill people randomly, but takes on a person that took pleasure in giving others trouble without provocation. The characters of Ben and his girlfriend offer an ideal view of the average young person, who can be gullible. The film’s makers have consciously steered away from clichés and predictability.
(Producer and co-writer Erik Crary with David Lynch at an event)
Maximizing resources to tell a solid story are a forte of independent filmmakers worldwide. With Uncle John, Steven Piet and Erik Crary display this strength ably, and manage to deliver an entertaining film loaded with twists and turns.
(Uncle John is currently playing on myNK)
Sign up to get access to the stories behind films and conversations on cinema worldwide.