September 3, 2020  (Web Review)

Union Bridge

Breaking Glass Pictures, 91 min., not rated, DVD: $24.99, May 19

Reviewer rating: 2.0/4

Set in the Maryland town of Union Bridge, this American independent drama favors atmosphere and mood over narrative in the story of Will Shipe (Scott Friend), a young man who returns to his Southern home town after years living in the city. His reasons for returning are left vague and he has no real direction once he arrives back home but he comes from privilege (the local factory is branded with the family name) and his mother expects him to take his place in the social elite of their sleepy town. Will reconnects with his old friend Nick (Alex Breaux), now a reclusive oddball driven by dreams of a Civil War conspiracy (seen in fragmentary glimpses of either flashbacks or visions, we’re not sure which) and spends his evenings digging for hidden gold, which Will’s mother fears will uncover some deep family secret. He also begins a tentative romance with Nick’s cousin Mary (Emma Duncan), who leads daily rituals by the river in what appears to be pagan prayers. The feature debut of writer/director Brian Levin is both professionally accomplished—the cinematography is rich with texture and atmosphere—and frustratingly abstract. We know almost nothing of our characters’ histories and get little insight into their present lives. They never seem to work for a living and appear to spend all their time in the long, meandering scenes strolling through town. Levin draws strong performances from his cast and in one scene suggests a storm of emotion within the otherwise close-off Nick as he deals with his aging mother as she slips into dementia. But the languid pacing dissipates any dramatic tension—Levin seems contents to observe his characters as they simply wander through this sleepy little world—and there is little payoff in the third act revelation of the Civil War mystery. It seems that Levin wants to create an experience that casts a spell. He comes close but he simply doesn’t give audiences enough to carry them along the wisp of a narrative, which drags through the 90-minute running time. The unrated film has some adult themes but features no objectionable language, nudity, or violence. Optional purchase. Aud: C, P. (S. Axmaker)