William's Lullaby (2014)
The under-the-radar factor:
Shot in 16 days for a reported $1800, this micro-budget production has won awards at some of the festivals it has played at and is scheduled to be made available via DVD and streaming/download options through, among other platforms, the movie's website.
Hollywood is Hollywood. Many interesting, intriguing, and worthwhile efforts have been sabotaged by that monster called "The Hollywood Ending", that strange beast nervous investors, myopic producers, and equally astigmatic distribution channels deem to be what the public wishes to see.
News flash for the above mentioned interests: especially in this day and age, "public" is a plural. While many still wish to absorb the mainstream pap that is out there, others seek something with the honesty and integrity that the indie film circuit should deliver but, sadly, doesn't do often enough.
In spite of some shortfalls along the way, William's Lullaby stands pretty tall by the end credits after having delivered a difficult to watch but uncompromising look at a tragic tale. Hollywood it's not and here, in regards to writer/director Nicholas Arnold's sophomore feature, that's a good thing. Just don't be fooled by the title - this is anything but a gentle experience.
The film starts in the past with three teenagers in a school washroom and an incident that will have ramifications for the lifetime of the one who will grow up to be Thomas Splinter. The story jumps to the present to show Thomas (Richard Roy Sutton) as a recently widowed single parent, whose life is a pile-up of moments from the years gone by (and, possibly, the future) that has led to chronic depression and paranoia. The bills are piling up to the extent that his home's hot water supply has been cut off. Employment is precarious and once he does land work as a school janitor, his motivation to show up for shifts is far from assured. As well as dealing with the grief concerning his dead wife and the challenge of raising his five year old son, the William of the title (Toby Bisson), Thomas is also haunted by images and nightmares concerning the episode from his boyhood years. Raised by a cold mother who never encouraged emotion and expression, Splinter finally agrees to see a hypnotherapist (the late Robert Lawton) who tries to help. While William has enough trouble being accepted by others in his school setting, his equally isolated dad has difficulties trying to resolve his own issues - every step forward taken with the doctor treating him is met with one back ...sometimes more. One of the most haunting visions he has to deal with concerns William growing up to be too much like an acquaintance from the father's past. This only adds to the downward spiral in the relationship between papa and son...
I'll pull back from adding any more of the storyline for fear of wadding too far into spoiler territory ...check out the trailer for now...
Sure, it's true that the film is a tad long and could use some trimming throughout - the first half of the movie seems particularly plodding. A few of the performances in the first hour, while far from embarrassing, seem serviceable at best. The low-budget look to the lighting in some night scenes calls attention to itself and a conventional cut-on-dialogue approach exists in much of the editing.
None of these shortcoming sabotage the end result. What evolves is an earnest and powerful examination of a life probably not meant to resolve some or even most of the potential tragedies waiting so obviously around the corner for it. William's Lullaby tackles a troubling scenario without pulling punches or engaging in mainstream compromises. Its unabashed honesty is the antithesis of big studio canned pablum. Why seek out indie works if not to find the filmic fresh air corporate cinema smothers? Arnold refuses to indulge in feel-good cop-outs or contrivances regarding the subject of mental illness and the ending leaves the viewer feeling as shattered as the characters on the screen.
Sutton delivers when he has to, convincing in his portrayal of an individual who has lost his grip. Bisson is appropriately charming (if loud) as his son. As the tale continues the time-displacements, flashbacks, and nightmares combine effectively to drive home the disorientation the Thomas character experiences. Kudos also go to Paul Barton' score, adding richly to the atmospherics at play.
There have been solid examples of micro-budget indie work coming recently from Canada, in the form of films like The Butler Brothers` Mourning Has Broken and Christopher White`s I Fall Down. Add one more that can proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those worthy efforts. William's Lullaby rewards by refusing to turn away from stark truths in a way few other productions have the courage to follow.