We’re all closer to the brink of madness than we’d care to admit and it can take merely the slightest of bad decisions to push us over the brink. The protagonist of Jason James’ latest feature Exile has plummeted to such depths, but also unwittingly drags those he loves along into an abyss of his own making.
Family man Ted Evans (Adam Beach) has just been released from a five year prison stint for killing several people during a DUI incident. While wife Sara (Camille Sullivan) is ready to bring him home to their children and restart their life, Ted has brought new demons with him and promptly disappears during the trip home.
One year later, Sara has tracked him down to a small cabin just outside of Powell River. Ted is convinced that the man whose family he killed, McGrath, is out for revenge and will harm Ted’s family if he attempts to reunite with them, resulting in a self-enforced isolation. Sara fruitlessly tries to convince Ted that McGrath committed suicide many months ago and that his fear is simply a delusion based on guilt.
But the shades of this tale are not so black and white as local police Chief Sanders (Garry Chalk) has information that Ted might not be completely truthful in his motivations while signs begin to appear that someone with a vendetta may indeed be monitoring this isolated cabin.
It has to be said off the top that Exile is an absolutely stunning-looking film with cinematographer Stirling Bancroft delivering some of his finest images to date (beautiful coastal locations never hurt either). The actors all bring extra A-game to their parts with Beach delivering on the tortured Ted and Sullivan excelling as the distressed-yet-determined wife who just wants their family reunited. The supporting cast doesn’t slouch either with Chalk making the most out of his role as Chief-turned-gumshoe and Vancouver screen veterans Marshall Williams and Teagan Vincze leaving an impression despite their limited screen time. Some bonus points are also deserved for the Canadian setting, even if the filmmakers insist on making the protagonists American (Sara drives up from Washington State).
Despite this high prairie for its various elements, I just never found myself that enraptured with the film’s story. The concept is there, but the script takes several stumbles in setting up the main conflict leaving the audience (or at least this reviewer) more confused than engaged.
You can only speculate on whether or not Ted’s fear is a delusion for so long, a position even the film itself won’t commit to. The repeated attempts by the B-plot of Chief Sanders investigating Ted’s past fail to jump start any much-needed tension in the final act leaving the closing moments with a shrug than any release of tension.
In the end, I can’t help but wonder if Exile may have played better as an episode of a one hour anthology series, allowing for tighter plotting and pacing. A solid concept, cast and technical prowess can only carry your film so far if your script is unwilling to sufficiently entertain your audience.
Exile screens as part of Whistler Film Festival at the Village 8 Cinemas on Thurs, Dec 1, 6:15pm