Producers: Ana Paula Rivera, Vlad Feier, Regina Bang and Javier del Olmo Director: Vlad Feier Screenplay: Vlad Feier and Peter Gutten Cast: Johnny Whitworth, Maurice McRae, Afton Williamson, Jared Kemp, Justin A. Davis, Zazie Beetz, Danny Johnson, Jeremy Holm, Larry Pine, Leopold Manswell Distributor: Blue Fox Entertainment
The intentions are of the highest in Vlad Feier’s would-be missing-child thriller, but “Still Here” is hobbled by misplaced emphases and an effort to juggle too many plot threads. The result is watchable but rather flabby, like an overextended episode of a TV police procedural.
The center of the plot is a Brooklyn girl named Keysha Watson (Zazie Beetz), who disappears on her way home one day. Her mother Tiffany (Afton Williamson) is understandably traumatized, and when her father Michael (Maurice McRae) sees that the police effort to find her is at best pro-forma, he frantically scours the neighborhood, hanging up posters and asking people whether they’ve seen her.
Meanwhile Christian Baker (Johnny Whitworth), a newspaper reporter, is assigned by his crusty editor (Larry Pine) to look into the case. He complains that’s hardly worth the effort, but makes his way to Brooklyn and questions some local gangbangers, rough guys who nonetheless give him a tip about a fellow who disappeared about the same time as the Keysha. He writes about how the police failed to do a proper investigation, forcing Detective Greg Spaulding (Jeremy Holm) and his partner Anthony Evans (Danny Johnson) to take a more serious look.
They catch up with the suspect Baker identified, but their interrogation is so harsh that it leads to his death; and as it turns out, his alibi checked out. Back to square one, Baker and Spaulding continue their separate searches for the perpetrator, and eventually they find him—and Keysha.
Writer-director Vlad Feier and his co-scripter Peter Gutten add some wrinkles to the plot, like the discovery of a corpse that might be the girl’s, and Spaulding’s decision to bring Keysha’s distraught older brother Andre (Jared Kemp) for questioning. But the trajectory is pretty clear-cut. The portion of the film dealing with the impact of Keysha’s loss on her family is strong stuff, and it’s powerfully played by Williamson, Kemp and especially McRae. (Beetz, of course, appears mostly in angelic, gauzy flashbacks.)
But much of the running-time is devoted elsewhere. One thread concentrates on Baker, and unfortunately it falls into the white savior syndrome that has too often been the cliché of choice in films about mistreated blacks. (Even “To Kill a Mockingbird,” despite its classic status, falls into that mode.) And another focuses on Spaulding, who has to overcome his prejudices—and his ha bit of breaking the rules—to do his job properly. (Luckily, he has a black partner to talk him out of his self-loathing.) Though Whitworth and Holm try to bring these characters alive, they remain sketchy, and the inordinate time spent on their troubles takes the emphasis away from the Watsons, where it really belongs.
The ending of the film, moreover, turns into a sort of public service announcement, showing Baker writing a column about people caring for one another in the search for the literally hundreds of thousands of women and children who have gone missing, their cases still open. It’s a nice sentiment, but again it moves the focus from the Watsons to something less personal, more universal and so more distant.
“Still Here” is decently made from a technical standpoint—Roxy Martinez’s production design and Ana Paula Rivera’s cinematography give everything a sad, grubby look, the music by Jeff Kryka is suitably somber, and the editing by Georg Petzoid and Steve McClean is true to Feier’s funereal pacing.
But except for McRae, it never generates the passion the subject demands.