In one of the most amiable films of this year's Raindance, inspiration and awakenings take the reigns in an hour and a half of something idling on actually quite motivational, only slightly missing the mark with a minimalistic approach bordering on mundane.
At the top of their kickstarter campaign page, Dusky Paradise’s slug line reads ‘a feature film about the potential of life’. Whilst quite a large, vague theme for a film to roam around in for about an hour and a half, it’s also one that often proves to be valuable and meaty enough to chew on something resembling clever, perhaps even memorable, for a chunk of the average person’s day. It’s a theme which takes up most of its residence in the ‘coming-of-age’ film, where a person’s realisation that their life and so much more lies only yonder, and there’s just so much within their newly grown, adolescent reach. Little Miss Sunshine, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, even heavier films like Precious, and even animated films like Up, all surround the theme of life’s potential, all in different, innovative ways. Clearly, it’s nothing if not a roomy theme.
And funnily enough, the ‘potential of life’ the film so deeply intertwines into its central theme does actually have something idling on the edge of potential. It’s been done before and the idea is nothing if not completely unoriginal. But the road ahead is far and wide with a thousand exciting, uncharted territories it could venture into, which it, rather swiftly, does not.
I am being overly harsh here. Although revelling in its mundanity for the first twenty minutes, Dusky Paradise does pick up into various realms of originality and becomes something idling on really quite likeable. It follows the utterly apathetic Jacob, who travels to a foreign country to look after the turtle of his recently deceased parents and live in their massive home where he meets two people who offer him a few different perspectives on life and its potential. It’s a premise brimming with teeming mundanity, as is the film’s first half which offers unimaginative morals and tedious dialogue. But that only works to escalate the film’s second half into something really worth paying attention to, perhaps event taking its advice seriously. Whether purposeful or not, Dusky Paradise’s pacing might be a little all over the place, but its structure is undoubtedly effective – two things most filmmakers find increasingly hard to separate.
And when we say terribly apathetic, imagine something more to the literal use of the adjective than just a bubble of hyperbole. He’s not just apathetic, he’s edging on really quite dire at first– and whilst Kes Baxter’s performance begins on some shaky legs, it finds its own and Baxter soon revels in a character that really doesn’t have much character. Jacob might be one of the most frustrating – and not only that, tediously frustrating – characters offered big screen time, but there’s no doubt he was written enveloped with intrigue.
He’s also a character more so brought to life by the film’s other two supporting roles – Matteo (Martin Umbach) and Zoe (Charlotte Krenz) – who stand as products of fully immersive, creative and invigorative writing, with two evidently talented actors to add their charm and spark. It remains to be seen whether swapping the protagonist role to one of them would add some potential to that old ‘potential of life’, but this one’s some lovely Sunday evening entertainment material which only just misses the mark, only just misses the great things it attempts to inspire. And coming from a script written only by a 22-year old, that’s definitely got the potential to be something worth taking pride in.
Dusky Paradise (2016), directed by Gregory Kirchhoff, was shown as part of the Raindance Film Festival 2016.