Movie Review: Bullied teen finds his purpose and his voice — “Rite of the Shaman”

“Rite of the Shaman” is a well-intentioned filmed homily about the righteous path for an aspiring holy man to take in his teens, when he’s still learning how to process grief, compartmentalize life’s many struggles and deal with bullies.

It’s entirely too touchy-feely and squishy to grapple its subject in a compelling and meaningful way.

The writing lacks subtlety, with the clumsiest “let’s jam all the backstory and exposition into this one monologue” I can remember. The acting is uneven — tepid to unpolished.

But as we see a kid who has stopped speaking after losing his father and shaman grandfather lash out — in his own way (Google reviews of businesses, online complaints about a teacher) — we’re shown the ripple effects of hurt, something this boy Kai (Tyrell Oberle) will learn from, change and make amends.

Kai is a soulful boy at one with nature, wandering the mountains near his Utah home, communing with the owl and connecting with the plants. He has a way with them, which the lady (Kim Stone) who runs the local nursery has picked up on. His enthusiasm for living things extends to biology class, where not speaking doesn’t keep him from being the star pupil.

But at home, Kai is coping with another impending loss. His mother (Janice Spencer-Wise) counsels and questions him from her sickbed. Is she going to die, too?

Flashbacks show us the lessons and simplistic meaning he should take from his mother’s Gaelic heritage and his father and grandfather’s Viking lineage. As this comes from his late shaman grandfather (James H. Martin), we assume Kai doesn’t need to confirm this.

And as the boy was given the hippy, crystal-cleansing, sage-burning, spirit-animal-loving name of “Kai,” shaman does seem like a viable life path, ordained at birth or not.

Kai has a cute girl he swaps emails with at home and notes with at school. And as sick as his mother is, he still has time to wander the mountains.

But add bullying on top of everything he’s dealing with, and he just snaps. His silent lashing-out spreads all over his world. Can he center himself, see the damage and find a way to undo it?

The sometimes sappy dialogue — “I miss the sound of your voice, my son.” — an-inspiration-a-day advice dispensed from flashbacks and heavy-handed folk ballad/melodramatic strings score weigh on this otherwise feather-light movie and hamper any self-actualization messaging.

Yes, it slips into tie-dyed “insipid” and that gets in your head and permeates the film to such a degree that it infects the language you have to use to review it.

But the couple who directed and wrote the film (Alicia Oberle Farmer, John D. Farmer) as a star vehicle for I assume their son (Tyrell Oberle) at least deliver a sweet undertone that atones for some of these shortcomings, if not all of them.

Rating: unrated, PG-worthy

Cast: Tyrell Oberle, Janice Spencer-Wise, Lauren Holdt, James H. Martin and Kim Stone.

Credits: Directed by Alicia Oberle Farmer, scripted by Alicia Oberle Farmer and John D. Farmer. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:09

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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