Stillwater (2003)
Synapse Films
Cast: Andrew Hulse, Bill Akin, V. Kim Blish, Melanie du Puy, Jeff Evans
Extras: Commentary Track, Still Gallery, Text Biography for Director

Considered a darling of the film festival circuit and applauded by critics alike, I found "Stillwater", the directorial feature film debut from Adrian Kays to be relatively shallow and uninspired. The setting of the Deep South offered a nice backdrop providing some terrific visuals, but that alone was not enough to keep this sometimes hard to follow film flowing smoothly. A good performance from Andrew Hulse and some shocking images add to the film, but I think my problem was that I had just expected a little more from a so called "gem" that commanded it's share of critical attention.

Andrew Morrison (Andrew Hulse), a recent college graduate who lives in a garage-style apartment in his parent's back yard, one day stumbles upon some birth documents while going through some boxes in his parent's home. After realizing that he was adopted at birth, Andrew decides to search for his birth mother to seek out more information about his early identity, eventually leading to some odd discoveries. Slow at times, "Stillwater" produces more questions than answers and took on an almost dreamlike quality in some scenes characteristic of David Lynch. This did not work for this style of storytelling and to me fell flat upon its presentation. If Adrian Kays wants to enjoy a long and successful film career, he should focus more on his own original ideas, rather than utilizing techniques already mastered by current image makers such as Lynch. I will give kudos to the cinematography, which managed to capture various backdrop scenes with a level of sophistication not normally seen with lower budgeted independent films.

Synapse, a company usually noted for decent presentations for its DVD releases, seemed to lower its standards with the DVD release of "Stillwater". Although color saturation captured lush greens and somewhat natural flesh tones, with acceptable black levels producing decent shadow detailing, "Stillwater" appears a little too unpolished with grain persistent throughout most of the film. This could be due to poor filmmaking choices rather than the actual transfer, but an item I could not overlook is the general poor quality of the print used for this transfer. Things such as large dust particles, wear marks along the right side of the screen and there is even evidence of grease pencil markings present! The print looks more like a work print, rather than a final master print. I really don't understand why Synapse chose to bother with such a brutal copy for the final transfer of "Stillwater" on DVD.

The provided Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack displays a decent soundstage, but dialogue appeared to suffer from insufficient levels that were either too low or too high and never seem to remain consistent throughout the visual presentation. One positive area of the soundtrack is the use of deep bass that manages to compliment some tension filled scenes.

An audio commentary is provided by director Adrian Kays that might offer some answers to the many questions left by the film. This would require sitting through another torturous viewing of the presentation, something that I was unwilling to attempt. A production still gallery and text-based biography of the director complete the special features section.

Granted a wide release on DVD, "Stillwater" will no doubt find some form of an audience. I simply found the film to be quite spiritless, paired with a rather forgettable DVD presentation.