A group of high school buddies attend a weekend camping getaway, designed to reconnect the friends. Did I mention this excursion was in the middle of nowhere? What could possibly go wrong? In the real world probably nothing - but this is a thriller remember. As the poster spells out, this camping trip has gone terribly wrong.
As I began to watch this indie movie, my first thoughts were of a two and a half to three star rating. Not because it felt like a bad film, rather because it was really slow moving. By about the thirty - thirty five minute mark, I was still leaning towards a three star rating. Nothing I could really point out - the acting was good and the cinematography was pretty decent. Just not much happening onscreen by this point, but the promise something was coming was increasing.
We had the setup within the first ten or so minutes and everything else felt like filler. High school jocks reliving their past, and touching up on what they've been doing lately. The histories did feel a little forced, since they all already seemed to know what their friends had been up to. After their first night of partying with some unwanted guests, the real story begins with the murder of one of their own.
Within fifteen or so minutes from the discovery of their murdered friend, my internal movie scale had shifted to maybe a three. Things were picking up - and the tension I was hoping for was increasing. Was the killer a member of this high school reunion? Or was it one of the newcomers to this camping trip from hell?
The rest of "Stillwater" plays out like a whodunit, and after that first hour I knew I really liked this film. What can I say? I'm a sucker for these types of movies. The real reason for my four star rating however, was the killer ending. I never saw that coming. Not at all.
As I'm sure you've guessed, I based the majority of my personal rating on the final act of the film. The biggest obstacle for "Stillwater" is the slow paced start. It's really hard to explain. The film was slow starting yet the acting was good, and it was also pretty to watch. So it all comes down to length and pacing. I'm not even sure anything could have been done in the edit, to fix this pacing issue, but I do know what may have helped. An overall cut... especially within that first thirty minutes.
Sure. Maybe a slightly different edit could have helped. Some foreshadowing or something - but the truth is that cutting out some scenes would have been the best way to go. This movie would still be considered a feature - even if eight to ten minutes had been removed. As I've been hinting at, it's not that that long lead-up was messy looking... just really long.
I was also a little put off by the presentation of the characters history. A few minutes of needless exposition, in an attempt to expand the world "Stillwater" takes place in was the culprit... and it wasn't needed. A blurb here and there, followed by the explosive accusations and assumptions made by the characters, as they all began to fly off the handle would have worked great. We didn't have to hear over and over about say... malpractice suits. That final burst of emotion within the final act would have done the trick. As well as set things up for the ending.
Finally... I loved the addition of the uninvited guests. I do however, think that they were over the top. Let me explain. Having these unwanted guests being the literal opposite of our stars - felt a little like "Stillwater" was forcing us viewers to assume it was them. By doing that, I knew right away that it wasn't them. Had these newcomers been a little toned down, even more like our starring men, the mystery of who done it would have been that much sweeter.
At the end of the day this really was a great film. It was a shame I had to wait so long to find that out - and that pretty much highlights my biggest fear for this movie. The average viewer, unless they happen to read this write-up, probably won't wait for over thirty minutes for things to maybe get good. However, anyone that does give "Stillwater" a chance - is going to be in for one hell of a ride. It does get good. Real friggin' good. And that ending? Oh man... I'm just going to leave it at that. A solid four stars.