This September 30th the second feature film from Cleveland based filmmaker Keitj Alin made its Steel City debut. Following the surreal & paranormal head-trip offered from his first movie, HEY OLD MAN, this follow up feature turns a complete 180 and lurks off into the sunset like a lost soul. A gritty genre film with a heavy heart ripped from a movie lover’s chest, this film is the flame that will draw the moths to Alin’s future endeavors. The story is a unique breed of animal that seems to recoil and attack without hesitation or provocation. On the surface it creeps along as a blood drenched Western, a tale of love, revenge, and redemption. Clinging to that skin like a fattened tick are moments of blood and gore that entice any Horror fan yet linger with the effectiveness that their presence is meant to induce. This carcass isn’t just smeared in red for the sake of the color, but rather to reflect the life force injected into the story and oozing out for those who can’t look away. At its core is a tender love story slathered in a search for purpose in the dueling conflicts of our pursuit to understand the true nature of fate versus destiny. The spirituality embedded in the story-line is an enigmatic blend of cosmic awareness, Judeo-Christian values, and enough nihilism to depress Nietzsche in a bleak study of tribalism. It’s as if Werner Herzog wanted to remake RAVENOUS and Gaspar Noe decided to remake EL TOPO but Alin beat them both to the box office. Imagine DANCES WITH WOLVES meets CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST by way of ZARDOZ and you’ll be dumbfounded to explain how this director managed to pull off so much with so little.
The story centers on the fictional retelling of Robert McGee, a privileged white man that has his family slaughtered in front of him. He himself is scalped yet survives, and is awakened with a savage spirit. The logical step in his growth into manhood is to join the exiled Indian clan that killed his family. Cultural perversion gives way to cannibalism as a means to survive. It’s from here that Robert’s hate and cruelty blossoms from rocky earth. Hardened and disillusioned he takes what he wants in his world with no threat of consequences and with complete indifference to the sanctity of life. McGee has his eyes on a young squaw named Red Tears, and wants to claim her like everything else that must bow to his mighty will. Red Tears escapes from the exiles and finds love in the arms of another disenchanted white man, Paul, who has lost his family to tragedy and must find his own path in the vast unknown of the Last Plain. Paul is the gentle every-man that searches for purpose only to have any bedrock of understanding either crumble away or be completely shattered. These two men are the opposite sides of the same coin, fashioned from the sweat and bitterness that fueled the Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. These magnetic forces are drawn together in a conclusion that offers more insight into the human condition than could be captured by a film with 1000x its budget. The supporting cast give a wide berth for the main characters of this torrid love triangle to anchor a tale for the ages.
Filmed entirely in the wilderness of northeastern Ohio and nearby historical villages, the believability of the plot rests squarely on the seasoned actors involved. Here wills are tested and desires skinned bare with almost little to no dialogue spoken. These are many of the bold and distinct choices that Alin implements that deliver a unique cinematic experience. It seemingly drifts from Art House fare to Low Brow cinema in the same pendulum swing, particularly in thanks to its unsettling special effects. Gun to my head I would say Alin’s filmmaking spirit reminds me of a more transgressive Steven C. Miller. The pacing through the edit is almost poetic and would ruin the film if altered by other hands, handling the camera work in such a way that isn’t jarring despite the subject matter. Again Alin commits to an idea and delivers, warts and all. I wholeheartedly believe that it is the climate of the Cleveland Rust Belt that only such an imaginative storyteller could survive, and ultimately flourish. As previously predicted with HEY OLD MAN, now Alin has proven himself with a trained cast, and I hope can do so again later coupled with a larger budget on his next project.
One distinct element that has to be addressed is the overwhelming power of the film’s score. The soundtrack helps carry a solid 30-40 minutes of the film that exists with no dialogue. This showcases the talents of the actors and the editing in conveying a complex, yet cohesive story that is told through body language and camera work. It’s a bold choice that harkens to the golden age of cinema like Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS and other silent films that sought to explore more than simple dance routines by utilizing the score to set and toy with atmosphere. Nicolette Ironwing should be commended for her multiple roles in the film, from wardrobe to make-up and much more. Some could critique the film for not having true-to-history period costumes, but from Alin’s $6000 budget, I cannot begin to fathom the penny pinching that she had to endure in the classic game of robbing Peter to pay Paul to deliver this film to the big screen. Personally I hope to see Ironwing in front of Alin’s camera again as her performance in his short film A BARGE AND ITS WIND leaves quite the impression.
Alin’s hinted at his next project being HELLMOUTH, a psuedo sci-fi film that combines the Sarlacc pit from RETURN OF THE JEDI and a character study of an alcoholic. You had me at Sarlacc pit.