IT MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR RANGE ROADS!!!
Film festivals represent the perfect opportunity for filmmakers to present their hard work over a period of time, before they get a change for a theatrical release. Obviously, when one thinks about these types of festivals, it’s easier to think about the most famous of them all, like the SXSW Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, or even the festivals from Europe. Despite being a relatively recent effort, Cinequest has slowly, but surely, been earning its place thanks to the films that premiere there. And it’s in this context that we can find Range Roads, Kyle Thomas’ follow-up to his feature debut, The Valley Below.
Frankie is an actress that is struggling to find her place in the world. When she hears the news about her parents’ death, she leaves everything to return to rural Alberta to attend to the funeral. It’s here that Frankie tries to reconnect to her estranged brother, Grayson, as well as a love interest from her youth, but also a secret that has been kept from her for years.
As stated by the director himself, Range Roads might be one of his most personal projects yet. And after seeing this film, it’s easy to see why. In a nutshell, the film dwelves into sensible territory regarding one’s self and his/her own sense of the world around. It deals with themes of mortality, reconnection and forgiveness in a way that feels personal and unique. Much of the appeal regarding this direction can be found on how Thomas chooses to portray Frankie and Grayson regarding their points of view. Frankie can be best described as the “black sheep” of the family, a person who makes her own choices despite her family’s protests; in contrast, Grayson never strayed from the family, building a close relationship with the deceased. It’s an interesting approach, sure, and one that is most effective whenever we see the two siblings trying their best to build a stronger foundation, despite their differences.
But while the characters and the themes clearly shine through, the story the film chooses to tell can be a bit familiar. Again, it’s not very hard to tell why, as these kinds of stories – of mourning, reconnection, rediscovery – serve as guidelines for stronger dramas in the industry. Because there are so many of those – and most of them are even critically acclaimed by fans and critics alike – Range Roads faces an uphill battle to show something that feels unique to it.
Thankfully, despite the familiarity of the formula, the film has a few positive notes that work on its behalf. Namely, Alana Hawley Purvis and Joe Perry as Frankie and Grayson, respectively. When working together, they display this sibling bond that’s still present, but also possesses a few problems in regards to each other’s perspectives and life experiences. However, Purvis is clearly a standout in the whole cast. It could be because she’s the lead, therefore we end up spending more time to know her, how her mind works, her flaws, and, by the end of it, we can’t help but feel glad of the journey she undertakes. Perry doesn’t get many chances to shine, although he can be competent whenever he shows up on the screen. Too bad the rest of the cast doesn’t get much to do. If this problem comes from design, we, as part of the audience, don’t know for sure, but it would help to enrich this world if the rest of the cast got more to do.
Range Roads also benefits from the shooting location. Alberta has been Thomas’ “muse” ever since The Valley Below, and we can get hooked on the simplicity of the location, which takes us back to those Country old movies. We don’t get to see much of it aside from a few locations of choice, but they sure bring that vibe of “peace” against the “chaos” of the big cities. That is captured through the impeccable lenses of Mike McLaughlin, as well as Eamon McGrath‘s simple, but effective, contributions to the music department.
In overall, Range Roads might not be the most extraordinary film that has appeared at Cinequest as of yet, but it nevertheless remains a sweet and tender look at how human connections work, and how hard it is to maintain them. Or, at worst, tolerate them. It’s familiar, but effective all the same.
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Title: Range Roads
Director: Kyle Thomas
Runtime: 86 minutes