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Monday, April 4, 2016

AFF Review: A Morning Light

The 40th Atlanta Film Festival is underway, and one of the best things about the fest is its willingness to exhibit experimental, independent films that push boundaries and find new and interesting ways to tell stories. One of the earliest films this year, A Morning Light, seeks to do just this as it loosely tells the story of a couple that is threatened by strange, supernatural phenomena as they spend time together in the Pacific Northwest wilderness.

The film, directed, written, and edited by Ian Clark, loosely follows Zach (Zach Weintraub), who spends his days tending bees and camping out on his acres of isolated property. He runs into an old friend, Ellyn (Celia Rowlson-Hall), and they soon fall into a routine of exploring the wilderness together, musing about nature and the history of man. They occasionally have awkward run-ins with Zach's closest neighbors, a pair of loggers that don't particularly like Zach. Over time, they are plagued by a sense of being watched and a series of strange events of light and sound.

A Morning Light is made up of loosely connected scenes that are largely improvised. The two main actors have a genuine sense of connectedness, so their conversation feels less scripted and more real, giving the film a very down-to-earth feel. Large portions of the film, however, are made up of experimental sections that consist of abstract nature photography and a dark synth score by ambient artist Eleh. Unfortunately this breaks up the flow of the character work that is naturally built up by Weintraub and Rowlson-Hall. Even accepting that this is an experimental film, without knowing the description beforehand it might be very difficult to grasp the point of these experimental interludes.

That said, the experimentation creates a pervasive sense of unease that is tangible. The pulsing low frequency tones and hypnotic sound design are key elements of the film and make the whole thing drip with anxiety and a gradual increase of low level fear that really captures the experience of being out in the wilderness alone. In this aspect, it is actually reminiscent of a film I really enjoyed at last year's Buried Alive Festival, The Interior, although they aim to explore very different themes.

A Morning Light is not for everyone. It is a unique film, and although it's purpose is not entirely clear at times, it succeeds at producing a consistent and fascinating tone that is worth noting. Ian Clark, as well as his two stars that are also directors themselves, is one to watch out for. In his future ventures, he may find a better balance between natural characters and unorthodox sound and visual exploration.

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