LORE ** USA 2017 Dir: Christian Larsen, Brock Manwill. 87 mins
With his parents going through a painful divorce, a 17 year old boy heads off alone with his backpack to the mountains and doesn’t come back. In one of his half-dozen or so cameos this week, Sheriff Eric Roberts stops the search, convinced there’s nothing more that can be done. Dad (Max Lesser) is realistic and questions God; Mom (Lyndsey Lantz) has faith and vivid dreams that prompt her to keep looking. Together with Native American guide Sean Wei Mah, they head off into territory that has been host to tribes for thousands of years – and also a shapeshifting mystical demon named “The Howler”, cursed to walk the Earth forever and luring people to their doom.
Beautifully shot in Cache National Forest in Idaho, this boldly opts for an emotional, character-driven approach to a premise that could drown in jump scares. It earnestly strives to portray the opposing ways in which two people in a failed marriage attempt to deal with their worst nightmare and the almost inevitable grief at the end of their quest : Lantz simply wants to die if her son turns out to be dead. The deliberate pacing generates a degree of menace from the off-camera threat and ominous portents (deer skin nailed to a tree) as characters see almost imperceptible things in the vast forest. In the absence of conventional genre gratification, the character stuff needs to be strong, but hokey dialogue (“We should have bought a bigger gun!”) and unconvincing performances make it heavy going. (On an unrelated note, Lesser sounds so much like Kiefer Sutherland he even gets a Jack Bauer-style “Damn it!” moment). Co-directors Larsen and Manwill commendably opt for a wrap-up in tune with the tone of what has gone before, but it’s a bit of a slog getting there.
Review by Steven West