A Work in Progress: Watch the Sunset

Andrew gets an exclusive peek at a work-in-progress one-take feature film!

What did you just say?
It's rare for the Movie Sleuth to gain access to what's commonly known in the industry as a rough cut, i.e., a work-in-progress version of a film still in the throes of post-production.  In other words, a not-quite-finished-yet version of a movie.  But with the forthcoming Watch the Sunset, a Southern Gothic slow burn in league with Blue Ruin and Slow West, we got a rare opportunity to see what promises to be an extraordinary technical feat for first time directors Tristan Barr and Michael Godson.  Touted as being shot entirely in a single take, the film stars Barr in the lead role as a reprobate with an out-of-wedlock daughter and on/off girlfriend who find themselves ensnared in a kidnapping and race against time to rescue a loved one from certain death.  The conceit of shooting it all in one sitting comes dangerously close to the elongated banalities of Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny but as it stands manages to work as a modestly sized thriller with many open vistas of barren Southern landscapes and decently compelling performances for first-timers.  It's not quite on par with, say, the prowess of Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark but it's now down there with Mike Figgis' ill conceived Timecode either.

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Opening on a needless documentary preamble of what appear to be heroin addicts, not to mention it's 1.85:1 aspect ratio against the rest of the film's widescreen 2.35:1 cinematography, this is one of those instances in a rough cut where you could conceivably junk the preamble in it's entirety.  It doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the picture and isn't book-ended by the feature film either in any contextual sense.  Once it does get rolling however, we spend a majority of Watch the Sunset in the passenger seat of a car as it's lone protagonist drives from location to location in what will become a day of bloodshed, drug abuse, kidnapping and overturned cars.  As previously mentioned, acting is serviceable for the most part but this is primarily a film driven by it's narrative approach in theory.  It's not so much what happens that matters, only that it's all done in one shot.  Given this is all shot in one take, there are a number of areas where dramatic tension either stops dead in it's tracks or tracking shots are drawn out for their own sake.  Some takes run on for so long the camera actually shakes with every breath the cameraman takes.  There's also a number of moments where a character's face will dip out of frame and it's unclear whether or not it was intentional or just another accident part in parcel to shooting an entire film in one shot.  Think the slick framing of Blue Ruin as lensed by Abel Ferrara. 

You like that, huh?
On the one hand, this is student filmmaking who make up for their lack of skills in camerawork with inspired choreography and a startingly tense storyline.  On the other hand, the picture tends to move at a snail's pace due to it's reliance on unfettered real time playing itself out and there were moments that begged to be shortened.  As it stands, Watch the Sunset, however it ends up in finished form, is a unique endeavor and a solid little thriller made with inspiration and ingenuity in the place of technical mastery.  Fans of Southern Gothic will be delighted by the twists and turns our heroes' journey takes and there's a palpable tension running through the midsection which you could cut with a knife.  Yes it's a little long and not in any Tarkovskian way which would invite the viewer to gaze deeper into a shot in search of hidden meanings.  

What you get with Watch the Sunset is a pretty cut and dried neo-noir set in the deep South.  Some viewers, as I did, will absolutely grow impatient with the film's leaden pacing and it takes nearly thirty minutes for its plot to emerge.  Despite the obvious shortcomings, there's just enough innovation and solid thriller elements here to make the endeavor worth your while. 


- Andrew Kotwicki