My least favourite movies to review are not ones I hate, for I can elaborate at length about why I despise them just as much as I could for a film I love. No, the worst kind of film to review is one that leaves me with virtually nothing to say or worse, feeling almost nothing once the end credits roll. Nothing except relief at having finally reached the end. All this, despite the best attempts of emoting thespians and a string-heavy score. My latest challenge for words arrives in the form of veteran actor Troy Ruptash’s feature directorial debut, They Who Surround Us.
Roman is a young boy who’s mother and younger sibling were (presumably) killed during WWII-era Ukraine. Fifty years later in 1980’s Alberta, adult Roman (Ruptash) has just lost his wife Kalyna (Vera Graziadei) in a tragic accident and must now care for young son Mykola (Daniel Mazepa) alone. This latest loss only awakens the aforementioned previously-repressed trauma from Roman’s past and it’s all sister-in-law Natalia (Ali Liebert) can do to keep things from spiralling further. That’s it folks. That’s the movie.
As Roman, Ruptash stumbles around the film looking vaguely sad and confused. It’s pretty clear from the first act what troubles him as he past traumas collide with the present. Having established that, the film proceeds to clobber us over the head with the same information over and over again. We get that Roman misses his wife. Care to tell us a little more about her other than the fact she can laugh and smile in slow motion? Perhaps a little more context for the Ukraine flashbacks? A single ounce of chemistry between father and son? No dice.
In the end, They Who Surround Us makes much ado about very little. I’m certain Ruptash had plenty to say with this screenplay, but without sufficient storytelling muscle or character development, all the audience is left with is a short film that’s over an hour too long. Settle for watching the trailer and save your time and money.
They Who Surround Us releases theatrically on August 27