TADFF 2013: SOLO Left Me Feeling... Stranded.

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TADFF 2013: SOLO Left Me Feeling... Stranded.
[Solo screens tonight at 9:30pm at the Scotiabank Cinema as part of Toronto After Dark's lineup. Tonight is Double Scene Points Night so if you buy your ticket you earn... double... your Scene points. Odd Thomas also screens at 7:00pm. That is 400 points, folks!]

Solo is a psychological thriller starring Annie Clark as Gillian, a seventeen year old camp counselor in training who must spend two days and nights alone on a remote northern island.

Attempting to move past a family tragedy the summer previous, 17-year-old Gillian takes a job as a counselor at a remote summer camp. As part of her initiation, she must spend two nights by herself on the camp's island, an intimidating collision of rock and wilderness carved out of the lake, supposedly haunted by the ghost of a camper who disappeared suspiciously decades before. When Gilllian's "solo" is interrupted by a local man responding to a distress call, what was meant to be a peaceful time alone in nature devolves into something disturbingly different. As her paranoia mounts, a horrifying secret is uprooted and Gillian finds herself in desperate fight to survive.

It would be easy to say that this film is full of unrealized potential and that is a difficulty I am having. Because what I am doing is allowing my own expectations to rule judgement over Cravit's film. I do not want to rain down on Cravit's film because honestly it is a good film. The camera work between Cravit and his DOP Stephen Chung is great and really captures the beauty and stillness of Northern Ontario. I really liked Todor Kobakov's ambient and droning score; it helped create the mood and reflect that nagging and buzzing thought that Gillian was not alone on that island. Nothing about this film feels amateurish. For a debut feature film it is a well made film. 

As the filmmaking is good so is the acting. Nothing wrong there either. In fact, kudos for casting a pretty young face that looks like real girl. Annie Clark is a beautiful young woman. But she also has a natural figure that does not look like it has been turned through the mills of the local fitness club to appease an industry's ideals on what a young woman should look like. Get my meaning? I am just glad they have cast a young woman who looks just that, like a lot of woman do, and not a fitness model or playmate, a product. 

But, once you have billed something as a psychological thriller then everything can take place in your protagonist's head and that can leave your audience with little left to spark their fears. And I feel we have very little to be afraid of in Solo. All we get is her belongings strewn about her campsite and what may or may not be a dream she has about someone unzipping her tent at night. Where is our dread and fear that someone is watching her? When she is standing outside her tent at night shining her flashlight into the woods I do not have to see someone or something duck out of the light, but perhaps even a hand resting on a tree just out of the light, stroking the bark, as this weirdo watches her? That's what I do when I am in the woods spying on little girls... ... (cough). Where are our emotional triggers? 

Cravit spoke in a press release of the campfire story that inspired his film. One of the creepiest elements of that story were the pictures taken of the person in that story, while they slept. There are pictures in his film but they are of the girl who disappeared off the island many years before. Sure those create a bit of mystery which will lead us towards who is really on the island with Gillian. But why not use that element to your full advantage and have Gillian shuffle through pictures on her camera phone, or any camera for that matter, and see images of someone or something in the woods. Or pictures of herself? 

And sound. Even more use of sound might have done more to illicit some sort of reaction of fear. Once the third act comes along there is plenty there to keep us interested in the outcome. But where is the buildup? Minus a couple of plotted jumps scares that happen within the same scene there really was not enough there, for me, to turn up the tension. 

Solo is creepy. It just is not creepy enough for me.
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