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MISSIONARY

Producer: Scott Polley and Bruce Wood
Director: Anthony DiBlasi
Writer: Bruce Wood and Scott Polley
Dawn Olivieri , Mitch Ryan, Kip Pardue, J LaRose, Connor Christie, Jordan Woods-Robinson, Randy Maolnar, Jesse Malinowski and Dushawn Moses
Studio: Freestyle Releasing

C-

The LDS church has endured “The Book of Mormon” with reasonably good spirits, but it might find it harder to stomach “Missionary,” a mediocre proselytizer-turned-stalker thriller that believers might find especially disconcerting as it arrives almost simultaneously with the sunny documentary “Meet the Mormons,” which falls at the other end of the spectrum. While made with a reasonable degree of technical skill, its crude storytelling renders it at best cable-TV fodder.

Dawn Olivieri stars as Katherine Kingsman, a hard-working woman estranged from her husband Ian (Kip Pardue) and attempting to raise their son Kelsey (Connor Christie) pretty much on her own. She’s stumped trying to prepare the boy for football tryouts, however, and so when two Mormon missionaries stop by as they’re practicing, she’s initially irritated and standoffish. But one of them, Elder Kevin Brock (Mitch Ryan) shows Kelsey how to go out for a pass, and though it’s against the rules, his companion Elder Whitehall (Jordan Woods-Robinson) allows him to continue coaching the lad. Thankful for the help, Dawn is open to a prayer session with them.

Soon, however, the sessions between her and Elder Brock become far less prayerful. Without much foreplay they’re enjoying sex together—something that continues until Ian comes back into his family’s life, disrupting the dalliance. That’s the signal for Brock to turn possessive and menacing, leading to a confrontation between him and Ian that turns decidedly nasty—though not so nasty as the attempt by the now-maniacal Brock to kidnap Dawn and Kelsey to form the perfect unit. By now it’s evident that he’s unhinged: Dawn learns about a previous incident of stalking in his past, and he’s also had a run-in with some of his brethren. A protracted face-off in a junkyard finally settles the issue.

There are a few suspenseful moments in “Missionary,” most of them provided by Ryan, who’s fairly successful in portraying Brock’s appearance as a likable gentleman in the beginning and his brooding, intense stalker at the end. Unfortunately the transition between the two isn’t depicted particularly well, and the connection between him and Olivieri’s Dawn isn’t so much dramatically developed as simply taken for granted. And when it comes time for director Anthony DiBlasi to stage the final round of confrontations—first between Brock and Ian, and then between him and Dawn (with Kelsey a pawn in the game), he does so rather flaccidly, with the result that the conclusion comes off as predictable and staid. (DiBlasi served as editor, too.)

One can leave it to the LSD to dispute the accuracy of the picture’s depiction of its internal beliefs and practices; this critic is in no position to do so. As a movie, however, “Missionary” is little more than a pallid gender-reversal version of “Fatal Attraction” with an unseemly religious twist.

FORCE MAJEURE (TURIST)

Producer: Erik Hemmendorff, Marie Kjellson and Philippe Bober
Director: Ruben Ostlund
Writer: Ruben Ostlund
Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius, Malin Dahl, Brady Corbet and Jakob Hranqvist
Magnolia Pictures

B+

A dark comedy with a tone as bracing as its icebound setting, “Force majeure” is about the impact of a near-miss encounter with an avalanche on a family’s domestic dynamic, but its effect is more like that of a cinematic glacier slowly and unremittingly taking its emotional toll on the characters, who move abruptly from farcical to tragic mode. Ruben Ostlund’s film emerges as a remarkable blend of dramatic power and bleak humor, though some viewers may be slow to pick up on the joke.

As the film opens, a Scandinavian family—father Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke), mother Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and children Vera (Clara Wettergren) and Harry (Vincent Wettergren)—have arrived for a ski vacation at a modernistic, architecturally striking Alpine resort. After taking a few group photos, they begin their five-day sojourn, which will be followed chronologically, with trips down the slopes interrupted by scenes in their suite. On the second day—announced by a title card—the defining moment happens as they’ve settled into a table at an outdoor restaurant for lunch. In the distance an avalanche can be glimpsed moving in their direction—apparently just one of the controlled events set off by the resort staff via the booms that occur intermittently on the soundtrack. But this one appears to be coming at them implacably, gathering strength in the process. As it approaches and begins spraying the diners with snow, Ebba gathers the children under her maternal wing, as it were. Tomas, on the other hand, grabs his gloves and phone and sprints off to safety, returning only after the danger has passed.

That instantaneous decision becomes a sore eating away at the family. The kids’ demeanor subtly changes, and later grows increasingly frightened and surly as Ebba brings up Tomas’ cowardly act, first over dinner with an acquaintance (Malin Dahl) who openly flaunts her infidelity (and brings along a handsome young stud, played by Brady Corbet, to prove it) and then in a wine-driven all-nighter with Tomas’ old friend Mats (Kristofer Hivju), a divorced guy accompanied by Fanni (Fanni Metelius), a pretty, much younger girlfriend. Tomas insists he didn’t run away, and says that he and Ebba are merely remembering things differently. But watching the episode unfold on Tomas’ phone camera forces him to accept the truth about himself, and he finds it devastating.

“Force majeure,” of course, isn’t about the power of the avalanche as a physical phenomenon, but the destructive effect that brief encounter with it has on this apparently picture-perfect family. Tomas and Ebba are the ones affected the most, of course; he’s reduced in the end to a sobbing husk of his former self, and though he’s afforded an opportunity to redeem himself somewhat during a final stint in the snow with Ebba, it’s obvious he’ll never be the same person. Nor will Ebba. Though she reconciles herself to what happened—as least as far as we can see—she’s become the dominant figure of the pair, as shown in a postscript during the bus trip down from the mountain, when an inept driver’s inability to control the vehicle leads her to take charge.

But Tomas and Ebba aren’t the only ones to suffer. Vera and Harry are clearly affected too, hunkering down together as they see their father reduced to weeping and terrified that their parents might be on the brink of divorce. And Mats and Fanni are as well, not only in terms of the strains that appear in the friendship between Mats and Tomas during a day they spend together skiing, but in the heated discussion Mats and Fanni have after their conversation with the married couple—which threatens to sunder their relationship by proxy, as it were. Meanwhile a quiet hotel maintenance man watches silently as Tomas and Ebba argue through their troubles, as much a voyeur as we are.

The casting throughout “Force majeure” is impeccable. Kuhnke, who looks a bit like Peter Sarsgaard, conveys both Thomas’ amiability and his descent into despair, while Kongsli evinces both the concern and anger of his wife. The Wettergren children are no less remarkable, expressing in very few words how stress between parents can devastate their kids; and Hivju and Metelius persuasively play a couple whose reaction to an unpleasant encounter with friends is a mixture of amazement, amusement and contention. The ambience of the picture is equally important, with cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel’s cool, crisp widescreen images capturing the chilliness of both the locales and of Josefin Asberg’s production design, and the editing by Ostlund and Jacob Secher Schulsinger enhances the director’s clinical approach to the material, while furious bursts from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” (the “Winter” concerto, of course) are cannily used to punctuate the long silences. The care taken in portraying the avalanche sequence should also be noted; the impact is pretty awesome.

The cool deliberation of “Force majeure” takes a degree of patience to appreciate, and some may find its abrupt tonal shifts bewildering. But it’s a remarkable portrait of a family on the verge.