(Longleaf Film Festival) - Born River Bye (2018) - Reviewed

Stagnation is an obstacle that every adult confronts at one point or another.  The journey of life is filled with self-discovery, anxiety, and the inevitable question "What if?"  The concept has been explored in cinema since its inception, plumbing the depths of the human experience to create unforgettable epics of the heart.  Tim Hall's second feature film, Born River Bye, is a southern lullaby; a simple, yet elegant foray into the world of things left undone.  Featuring a pair of emotionally resonant performances, delicate visuals, and a surprisingly fresh narrative, this is one of the year's best kept cinematic secrets. 

Scott is a struggling musician who returns home to reflect on his career and reunites with his high school friend Laura, who is also unhappy with her life.  Over the course of a weekend the pair examine their lives and begin to find a renewed sense of purpose.  Hall’s script has many of the trappings one would expect for this kind of picture, however, this is with intent.  One of the film's many boons is in the natural presentation.  The dialogue is organic, even awkwardly familiar at times, mimicking the hard conversations that every viewer has had at one point in their lives.  While there are a few abrupt turns that threaten to upend the moody ambiance, for the most part, Born seamlessly coasts through the quagmires of failed potential. 

Dustin Gooch's performance as Scott has a wounded sense of gravity that is hard to shake, even long after the credits have faded. He embraces not only the veneer, but the root emotions that roil underneath.  Every outburst has a reason, every longing stare a secret, and it is these hidden truths that are Gooch's creed.  Ashlee Heath's complex turn as Laura is both empowering and difficult.  It would be easy to play favorites, yet Hall's ability to give both leads dovetailing stories is phenomenal.  While each character struggles with different demons, their predicaments are given equal time and neither feels more important than the other.  Many of Heath's scenes are without dialogue and they are perhaps the most potent due to her uncanny emotional command.  While their scenes together are limited, Gooch and Heath's chemistry forms the centerpiece of the story.  Their conversations are both fantastical planning sessions and purges of venomous hobgoblins of the mind, allowing the viewer to come full circle with the protagonists as they approach self-discovery.

Saul McSween's crisp cinematography constantly evolves.  The interior shots have an almost cell like quality, emulating the characters' feelings of isolation and impatience.  The exterior shots of Macon, Georgia capture the natural grace of the south while also shining a light into the forgotten sanctums of youth.  This is a beautiful picture filled with hopeful light and smoke-filled speakeasies, a dichotomy that is often exploited in dramas.  Hall's approach to the dual nature of the moments in between the moments is fantastic, with the triumphs and perils being highlighted by Jonathan Seale's meditative score.


The film screened at the Longleaf Film Festival this past weekend where it took Best Drama (Narrative Feature).  Hopefully coming to digital on demand soon, Born River Bye is a remarkable experience.  It's honest and brutal throughout, yet it never devolves into self-loathing or accusation.  This is part of the film's undeniable charm.  While the subject matter varies from depressing to dark, Born never develops a mean spirit.  Its creator knows the unhappy truths of adulthood but also understands that the opportunity for change is always waiting to be discovered.

--Kyle Jonathan