Redland Review

The dark, hallucinatory fable Redland, a 2009 film festival lapper just now receiving a limited release, begins and climaxes with two of the most audacious sex-meets-death set pieces in recent indie-movie memory. What's even more daring: First-time director Asiel Norton decided to shoot this starless, elliptical, defiantly mythic feature on 35mm film, with heavy filtration and apparently nothing but light that would be natural to its setting, the shanty of a dirt-poor family in Depression-era rural Northern California. The resulting look — sometimes barely emerging from the celluloid grain, often toned in sepia or moonlight blue — resembles a flickering, psychedelic daguerreotype; it's unlike anything I've ever seen before.

A disorienting daze of perspectives, with a soundtrack drone often subbing for dialogue, Redland sometimes seems to constitute the merged daydreams and ever-tenuous reality of Mary-Ann (Lucy Adden), a naïve young waif attempting to hide an affair from her family as starvation and isolation drive them all closer to madness and the brink of death.

When Mary-Ann's secret boyfriend (Toben Seymour) joins her father and brother on a last-ditch hunt for food, Norton scrambles the POV even further: One character's fantasies become another's paranoid visions within a collective nightmare. The depraved, desperation-trumps-morality, circle-of-life denouement is foreshadowed a little too heavily from the beginning, but with its hypnotic, singular aesthetic, Redland still casts a spell that's hard to shake. 

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