out of Five
Running time: 95
Magical realist drama that’s ambitious, but ultimately frustrating and confusing – it looks great and it’s well-acted but it’s far too slow and doesn’t really work.
Identical twin writing-directing team the Polish Brothers (Mark and Michael) made a significant splash with their first film, the quirky independent Twin Falls Idaho, though their second film, Jackpot, failed to get a release in the UK. (They also showed up as actors in Neil Jordan’s The Good Thief earlier this year).
Village Of The Damned
Northfork is their third film and you have to admire their ambition, even if the result is ultimately both disappointing and confusing.
The film is set in 1955. The town of Northfork is about to be literally
‘dammed’ and flooded to make way for a new hydroelectric project. Almost everyone in town has already moved out, but a few lingerers remain.
These include: a preacher (Nick Nolte) looking after a sick boy who believes he’s the lost member of an ancient tribe of wandering angels; an amorous couple; and a God-fearing man (and his two wives) who has built himself an ark. James Woods stars as a member of the eerily bureaucratic Evacuation Committee, one of six men charged with getting the stragglers to safety by any means necessary.
Things get a little more complicated with the introduction of another group of characters, including drunken, cynical Cup of Tea (Robin Sachs), blind double-amputee Happy (Anthony Edwards), androgynous Flower Hercules (Daryl Hannah) and the silent, scribbling Cod (Ben Foster). And this is to say nothing of the half-dog, half-giraffe-type creature.
Magical Realist Fable
Essentially, the film is a magical realist fable that the directors freely admit is open to all manner of interpretation, though most obviously it’s about preparing for death.
However, if you’ve seen the somewhat misleading trailer you could be forgiven for expecting more or less a straight drama about a group of government officials evacuating some reluctant stragglers – the main problem with the film is that you come out of it wishing they’d junked all the tedious oh-so-symbolic angel stuff and just played it straight.
That said, the performances are good (particularly Woods and Nolte) and it’s beautifully shot, with some memorable images, particularly of the Committee in their identical cars, trench-coats and fedoras.
Ultimately, then, Northfork is something of a disappointment, largely because the potential is there for it to have been really good. As it is, it’s well-acted but slow, frustrating and confusing in equal measure.