Interweaving three stories, the lyrical small-town drama "Ties to Rachel" is an ambitiously original but not entirely successful attempt to endow the screen tale with literary properties better suited to a complex novel. Jon Resnik's beautifully shot feature directorial debut aims to comment on love, loss and desire, but comes across as pretentious --- and a bit dull --- which should limit theatrical possibilities and relegate the film to the festival circuit. A montage of three intertwined narratives, all linked to the hauntingly elusive image of a beautiful girl named Rachel (Arija Bareikas), philosophically inclined pic is set in a small New England town, where the slowness of life has a bizarre impact on the residents. Told in flashback, the first story centers on the Champ (Adrian Pasdar), an itinerant boxer who believes he is responsible for the accidental death of his pushy, overzealous manager, Hervy (Bill Raymond). Torn by grief and guilt, the fighter struggles to return to the pure emotions he recalls having in his imagined love for Rachel.
Bucyrus (George Dickerson), the protagonist of the second tale, is a madman whose anguish over the loss of his wife has evolved into a violent hostility that often lands him in the local jail. A loner, his strongest anger is targeted at his adult son, Lester (Tim Hopper), in a series of manic, overtly sexual phone calls that are meant to alienate Lester from his wife, Millie (Ellen Parker), a numbed TV addict. Bucyrus’ craziness is furthered by his hallucinatory glimpses of Rachel, who he believes is the exact replica of his deceased wife.
In the third yarn, Deke (Joanna Adler), a fallen minister who was defrocked for her lesbianism, develops a special friendship with a quiet boy (Arthur Bridgers). As the proprietor of the repair shop, Deke comes into contact with — and knows the secrets of — most of the residents who pass through her place. Too bright for her own good, and slightly paranoid, she delivers long (often boring) monologues to her silent companion about her elaborate plan to expose the town’s darker side — which, of course, is related to Rachel.
Pic’s setting, mostly the woods and roads of a beautiful small town, lends a heightened sense of claustrophobia to the story. There’s an emphasis on the similarities in the ways the inhabitants deal with their daily chores and survival, despite disparate occupations and personalities.
A moody and evocative work, “Ties to Rachel” contains some ravishing visuals and silent, spiritual moments in which the characters contemplate their existence. But the pacing is too slow and the philosophical intent too self-conscious for viewers to get involved in the fractured, multilayered story. A further problem is the rather late appearance of the narrative’s emotional payoff.
That said, pic’s technical credits are impressive, particularly Garrett Fisher’s sharp lensing and Michael Krantz’s authentic production design. The ensemble is uniformly adequate; it’s hard to single out individual performances, for ultimately pic is more of a literary than an acting showcase.