A few striking images stand out in “Union Bridge,” the debut mystery thriller of writer-director Brian Levin. And he ensures we have lots of time to consider them.
We soak up atmosphere on endless, pointless walks along the railroad tracks, down “to the river.” We squint and furrow our brows at the lantern-lit flashbacks, trying to make sense out of the drawling thugs in Union Army uniforms beating and dealing with a young man for…being a Rebel? Being a Yankee? Knowing what they’re up to?
“What’s in the trunk will help us win the war!”
We struggle to make sense of how this past event formed the tortured present, where the town’s leading family, the Shipes, rule the roost, and the Taylors, probably then and certainly now, live off their scraps.
“You know our family has a long history…YOUR family should have been written off long ago!”
And it’s all to no avail. This may be the slowest 91 minute movie in screen history, a film wrought with pictorial care, too little dialogue to allow a viewer to make heads or tails out of it, of long stretches of silent unemotive acting and the odd burst of cursing fury that comes, out of nowhere, out of the Ship matriarch (Elisabeth Noone).
Her husband’s dead, with some unnamed shame attached to his name. The son (Scott Friend) has returned to town after misspent years (it is alleged) in The City.
Will’s big concern, asked of every local he happens upon?
“How’re things at the factory,” the Shipe works towering over the town at the top of a hill. Will gets reports, of the trouble his mentally-unbalanced old friend (Alex Breaux) fighting with colleagues and brooding as he walks the woods and fields near Union Bridge (a real Maryland town) with a pick or a shovel, digging holes, looking for “answers.”
Funny thing about Will. He asks about “the factory” a lot. He never goes to the factory.
He’s more interested in looking up an old flame, Mary Burke (Emma Duncan), who is pretty, pained, mysterious and like everyone and everything else in this one-“factory” town — dull.
Scene after scene does nothing to advance the “story,” an almost endless succession of screen-time-eating “moments that just lie there, excuses for setting up the lights and camera in a different location and nothing more.
It’s the digging that has everybody in a lather, or what passes for a lather in this corpse of movie. “Secrets” are buried, something that could upend the natural order of things. Maybe the Shipes, who have produced titans in the state, a governor even, are about to be found out. Maybe the Taylors will finally have their moment in the sun.
As I waited and waited, for answers, explanations, solutions or just for this gopher tortoise of a movie to um, MOVE, all I could think about is what must have been a frustrating festival life this self-distributed picture must have had.
Having sat on juries and been on selection committees, I’ve learned the dirty little secret to that sausage factory’s process. NOBODY has this much time to wait for a film to start, or get to a point that it never does.
Throwing “They say she practices witchcraft” into it (the “digging” is by divine, or infernal inspiration) in the late stages is just desperation, a cheat, a plot twist for a movie with little or no plot.
MPAA Rating:unrated, violence, profanity
Cast: Scott Friend, Emma Duncan, Alex Breaux, Elisabeth Noone
Credits: Written and directed by Brian Levin. A Breaking Glass release.
Running time: 1:31