Frank (Laurence Fuller) works in a dull office job where his smarmy boss Tom (Tim Martin Gleason) has made him an offer of overseeing one of their sister offices "up North" for the next six months.
Initially against the idea, Frank begins to have a change of heart when he attends a house party and discovers Tom in a compromising position with his girlfriend Jess (Michelle LaFrance). This revelation handily coincides with an old pal of Frank's, Jack (Micah Parker), sauntering back into town.
Jack has spent the last few months drifting from town to town, taking on odd jobs here and there and even living in a resting house for travellers for a short spell. Now he's turned up on Frank's doorstep at an opportune time, and wants to take his troubled friend out for the night. How can the comparatively quiet Frank refuse?
While drinking in a bar, Frank's eye is caught by an attractive brunette - Ruby (Rosalie McIntire). With Jack's encouragement, Frank approaches Ruby, chats her up over a drink and eventually takes her out to his car in the street for sex.
However, their fun is interrupted when a masked assailant bursts into the car mid-sex and stabs Ruby to death. Having blacked out, Frank awakens with blood on his clothes, a dead body in the boot of his car ... and the murder weapon stuffed incriminatingly into his pants.
Luckily, Jack is a lot more clued up and calm than Frank, and he has a plan. He tells Frank to accept the job up North, and advises that together they will drive there, burying Ruby's body somewhere remote and many miles away. Six months down the line, Frank can return home - by which time the search for Ruby will have subsided. Besides which, there would be nothing linking him with her.
Why is Jack so eager to help? Well, it soon transpires that he knew Ruby, and her meeting with Frank wasn't so random after all...
Jack even factors in their old pal Chris (Barak Hardley), who lives en route to Frank's new job destination. He'd planned to call in on Chris anyway, and now insists that the pair of them do just that during their journey. There's just one problem: Frank and slacker Chris don't get along, on account of a tryst the former once enjoyed with Chris's fiancee Trudy (Caitlin Gallogly).
Quite why the pair choose to call in on Chris is never satisfactorily explained - other than, as stated above, perhaps Jack simply sees the trip as an excursion as well as a body-dumping exercise. It does, however, provide scenes detailing friction between Frank and both Chris and Trudy, along with - crucially - giving our lead protagonists the opportunity to steal the keys to Chris's new isolated holiday cabin and relocate their plan to bury Ruby's body there.
Of course, plans like these only exist to go awry - and pretty soon they do...
ROAD TO THE WELL is the feature debut of writer-director Jon Cvack. To say it felt like something the Coen Brothers would've produced earlier in their career is no small praise. But it did. And not simply because certain plot points clearly nodded towards BLOOD SIMPLE and FARGO.
Stylistically, there's a lot to compare. A slick noirish feel, both visually and in terms of tone, is strived for throughout. Cool lighting schemes, deft use of colours (including some highly symbolic use of reds) and carefully considered compositions at every juncture: ROAD TO THE WELL is evidently a labour of love for Cvack and cinematographer Tim Davis. The deliberate pacing complements the aesthetics perfectly too.
A strong cast flesh out Cvack's well-drawn characters with skill, further lending this a Coen vibe. Rather than resorting to set-piece showcasing or rushing things along towards a chaotic, blood-strewn final act, Cvack's darkly humorous screenplay is - like his peers' best works - very much character-driven, and all the better for being so.
Parker is a standout performer. He pulls his role off with both charisma and an authentic air of underlying danger. As the plot reveals more of his past and his motivations, his becomes the most interesting character and he delivers on its many facets with considerable conviction. Fuller is a colder, more subdued presence by comparison, his character quiet and easily-led for the most part - though partial to opening up when drunk. Marshall R Teague deserves a special mention too, for his forceful, believable turn as an inconvenient neighbour during the film's second half (he also delivers a monologue which makes sense of the film's title).
A little bit of David Lynch quirkiness here, a dash of John Dahl cool there ... ROAD TO THE WELL feels sometimes like homage to the indie cinema of the 1990s, but retains an identity of its own thanks to the aforementioned qualities.
Partially funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, ROAD TO THE WELL looks pin-sharp thanks to be filmed in HD on Arri Alexa cameras. Handsome production values and sardonic humour keep things ticking over for the duration of the 112-minute running time. If the denouement is a tad underwhelming, well, that's a minor quibble. Along with everything else, Conor Jones's cool, evocative score should more than compensate for that.
We were sent the film to review as an online screener. The film is available via Candy Factory Films, on both DVD and SVOD formats.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Candy Factory Films|