After the recent Internet shitstorm surrounding a 250 million dollar movie and the surprise hit of another comic book movie before it (especially since these were the last two new releases I saw in theaters), it's so refreshing to see a wonderfully made and performed small scale character study. Amidst a barrage of explosions, CGI characters, and preformed expectations setting in years before a film is even released, a low budget indie came out of nowhere and really blew me away. It's a first time feature from director Patrick Biesemans, who has made two short films previously (which I highly recommend and are both available on his Vimeo account), but really shows an eye for characters and camera work for a debut. The script is written by the two leads, Casey Nelson and Kate Murdoch, who both deliver standout performances in their story of redemption and forgiveness against the backdrop of familial estrangement. There's a commitment and passion to this film that comes off infectiously while watching it.
The Last Treasure Hunt shows a brother and sister, Oliver and Lucy, coming back together after several years when their eccentric father dies of a heart attack. What they think will be a quick and easy emptying of their childhood home and a divvying up of their inheritance turns into an elaborate treasure hunt, like the ones they competed in during their youth. As they are forced to work together for their claim of riches, they trudge up the pains of the past while slowly reconnecting with each other over their mutual loss and current problems. A colorful cast of characters join the fray to spice up the brother/sister dynamic at the film's core. Lucy discovers a new love interest (though underdeveloped, intentionally?), their cousin Alfred (Jeff Grace) comes around with eyes on the now abandoned house, and the father's neighbor/best friend Gary (Charles Hoyes) shows up to bring some comfort, all helping to build the world and complicated relationships surrounding them. When Oliver's pregnant girlfriend Susan (Kandis Fay) shows up in the third act, all of the strife and secrets come to a head as this broken family tries to mend itself.
In addition to the two strong leads, every other character in the film is anchored by an excellent performance from every participating actor. Even the smaller parts end up having a realness and resonance (looking at you, Ernie). Art LaFleur, who I grew to love in the Trancers series, even has a vocal cameo as the late patriarch. The sleepy upper class seaside town gives Biesemans a plethora of gorgeous shots to use in showing both the isolation of the characters as well as the ebb and flow of life with the oceanic setting. The whole film has the vibe of a dream where the characters can avoid their problems and revert back to their childhood states in between bouts of reality crashing back in like the waves outside of their windows. The small stakes and intimate nature of the story help to get in close to these flawed and damaged characters, allowing the audience to understand and identify with their plight, even if they aren't the most likeable bunch. The characters are allowed to breathe and show every fault and mistake in uncomfortable detail along the way. When the film ends with a standard abrupt indie ending, it actually leaves you wanting a little more time with these people as they reach some sort of closure, which is a commendable result.
I only have a couple of small complaints that keep this film from being a total slam dunk with me, both of which seem to be trappings of the genre that few films stray away from. There is an overuse of indie songs in explaining and providing emotion to certain scenes in place of letting the visuals speak for themselves. I'm all for a well placed song adding to an already effective scene, but these types of films tend to depend on a few bands that the director/writer knows or enjoys to do the heavy lifting for them, acting as a showcase for the band instead of really contributing to the scene. Many of these songs come towards the beginning of the film, all played too loudly and for a bit too long, but thankfully this practice calms down as the film progresses. I also felt a sense of fatigue in certain scenes towards the “naturalistic” Mumblecore style of dialogue Oliver and Lucy share with each other. I can only hear them telling each other to fuck off or sullenly declare “Fuck It” so many times before it feels more lazy than natural. This only tends to occur in the brother/sister dynamic, while most of the other dialogue is well written and performed, but it does become grating a few times throughout the film (their first dinner scene being the chief offender). Overall, I really enjoyed this film and it brought a new excitement for any future projects from the three main talents. If you want something to clear your palette before jumping into the Summer blockbuster season, give this little character study a chance, before it's too late and you never get to tell it how you really feel...
8 out of 10 Shitty Tasting Lasagnas