Brightwood is a taste of DIY sci-fi goodness

Brightwood is a taste of DIY sci-fi goodness

The selling point for a film like Brightwood (now available on VOD!) would be to compare it to Timecrimes or Coherence. These films all share a common thread: heady sci-fi concepts applied to low-budget, high-novelty narratives. These Twilight Zone-esque little pressure cookers are not just entertaining to watch, but aspirational for those interested in making films of their own. All one needs is a great idea, a solid script, and a camera to put their audience through the metaphysical ringer, big budgets be damned.

In the case of Brightwood, perhaps the most basic production of the above referenced films, the entire story takes place across a single location, focused on just two people. Jen (Dana Berger) and Dan (Max Woertendyke) are a married couple on the outs. Jen wants to get a few miles in before dealing with her pushy husband who, as indicated by his current hungover state, drank way too much the night before and behaved as anyone who imbibed two bottles of wine would. Needless to say, Jen is embarrassed and Dan is feeling shame. Nonetheless, it’s a gorgeous day and a few laps around the lake is just what the doctor ordered for both of them.

But maybe they should run on separate paths.

What starts as a tense, and occasionally comical back-and-forth between aggrieved spouses soon takes a dire turn when the couple can’t seem to find the path back to civilization. Tensions kick into overdrive when a hooded figure joins them on the trail with designs on dishing out some violence.

It would be a shame to spoil the overall concept, as much of Brightwood’s pleasures can be mined from the act of discovery. Even though it’s pretty easy to telegraph certain elements of the story once it gets going, it’s the way the information is dished out that gives the film its value. Jen and Dan work in real time to figure out the machinations behind their circumstances, simultaneously acting as audience surrogates. Their mystery is our mystery, and the viewer is made to shift away from asking “what the heck?” and toward asking “what the heck would I do in the same situation?”

The filmmaking style of writer/director Dane Elcar is respectably DIY, mixing classic form with elements of found footage, giving the whole thing a voyeuristic feel, which perfectly suits the material — Jen and Dan are working (or bickering) through some very private and personal issues. That said, one gets the sense that even though the film clocks in at under 90 minutes, Brightwood might be served better as a short. Yes, there are some really big ideas being explored in the plot mechanics, but the story is a bit shaggier than it ostensibly wants to be. It feels distinctly as if some of the material may be added padding employed to meet a more desirable runtime. It’s a small complaint to be sure, but given the purposeful choice to make the lead characters simultaneously relatable and unlikable, it’s easy to feel the length.

Nonetheless, it all builds to an effective conclusion that, while not wholly successful in validating the film’s length, is very successful in establishing a strong arc for both of our main characters, while also maximizing the application of the core concept. It’s a mixed bag, but a positive one: for every moment that fizzled immediately from my memory, there are a handful that kept my mind reeling in the best of ways, while also giving me a great excuse not to ever engage in any sort of exercise ever again.

Directed by Dane Elcar

Written by Dane Elcar

Starring Dana Berger, Max Woertendyke

Not rated, 84 minutes

Leave a Reply