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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 12.10.10] movie news thriller drama

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Year: 2010
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Writer: Ed Gass-Donnelly
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

It doesn’t happen often but once in a while a film comes along that sweeps you off your feet from the opening credits. It plays, you enjoy it, it ends and you wish it were longer and that you had the opportunity to spend more time with the people, the places and the music. That’s what it felt like to walk out of Ed Gass-Donnelly’s sophomore effort Small Town Murder Songs.

I’m not familiar with Gass-Donnelly’s previous work (though you’d best believe I’ll shortly be getting acquainted with his debut feature This Beautiful City) but something about this trailer spoke to me. Part of it was the music, part of it was the setting and a whole lot of it was Peter Stormare, a man best known for his performance in Fargo and small bit parts in TV and film, in a lead role. For once, the trailer doesn’t disappoint and Small Town Murder Songs proves to be a quiet, assured drama.


Stormare is Walter, a police officer working in a small Ontario Mennonite town. His life seems ideal. He has a loving girlfriend, a good job and he seems on good terms with everyone in town but when the body of a young woman is found nearby, the façade of his perfect life begins to waver. We see glimpses of Walter’s violent past, a past that ended his relationship with Rita (Jill Hennessy) and which seems to have turned him onto the path of religion. As the investigation begins and indications that someone in town is responsible for the grizzly murder, someone Walter has it out for, his carefully rebuilt life begins to fracture and his actions threaten to damage the investigation, his career, his new relationship with Sam (Martha Plimpton) and the already uneasy relationship with his family.

Though it’ wrapped in the trappings of a police procedural, Gass-Donnelly’s film is, at its core, the tale of a man fighting his past and keeping control of his life. Set in rural Ontario, the backdrops of Murder Songs are mostly grey and dreary and Gass-Donnelly captures the scale of small town life beautifully. Injected throughout is a little religious imagery, some more subtle than others, which punctuates each step of Walter’s decline. Perhaps the film’s most striking feature aside from the performances, is the music by Toronto collective Bruce Peninsula. The mix of folk, gospel and rock provide a mesmerizing soundtrack to an already captivating film thought admittedly on one or two occasions, the music and religious undertones almost reach over saturation.

Aside from Stormare who shines as the barely in control Walter, the film features strong performances from a great supporting cast including Aaron Poole as Walter’s young partner Jim, Jill Hennessy looking worn as Walter’s ex-girlfriend Rita, Jackie Burroughs in a near walk-on but memorable role and Martha Plimpton as Sam, Walter’s new girl friend, a timid, god loving (and fearing) woman who always seems to be doling out some small bit of advice.

Though its pacing and religiosity are likely to keep mainstream audiences at bay, Ed Gass-Donnelly’s modern gothic Small Town Murder Songs is a great achievement. One to watch if it makes its way to a festival near you.

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Anonymous (3 years ago) Reply

Grizzly? Like the bear?


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