Delivered in straight chronology, “Angels Crest” would be a grueling, not very interesting revenge drama set in Southern California’s Angeles National Forest. With chronology shuffled and information denied to viewers until key moments, pic gains considerable intrigue, even if the ultimate outcome lacks the fully desired ironic punch. Drama is essentially a two-hander for thesps Chris Bauer and Currie Graham (who shared the lead actor prize at Method Fest), but the script, co-written by tyro helmer J. Michael Couto and Grant Holly, sneakily shifts from functioning like a play to a film that trades in moral ideas and tricks of visual perception. Currently playing at mid-level fests, pic isn’t quite daring enough for theatrical life but should find ancillary campgrounds.
As corporate human resources staffer Teddy (Chris Bauer) drives to work from an L.A. desert suburb, he spots his colleague and pal Richard (Currie Graham) waiting alone at a bus stop. Teddy picks Richard up and, for reasons that only become clear much later, the pair is soon driving through the local mountains. Teddy wants to play hooky and show Richard his favorite camping spot.
Teddy chatters about a girl he had a crush on as a little boy and Richard talks about feeling he can get over some past problems — innocuous dialogue that actually lays the groundwork for the primal drama that ensues. Suddenly Teddy whacks Richard in the head with a shovel, and, when he comes to, Richard finds himself tied to a tree and informed that he has only 36 minutes to live.
At this point, pic turns into a more cinematic work that consciously plays with the audience’s sense of time. While considerable patches of dialogue are either leaden or repetitive, script does a nice job of gradually revealing a past crime, while Couto and editors Robert Komatsu and Vanessa Newel cut back and forth in the time sequence to uncover events not shown in pic’s early phase. Such a sequence just past the midpoint will be viewed by some as too manipulative and by others as an outstanding flashback that sends “Angels Crest” to a higher level of cinema and character detail.
Despite an ending that suggests that the filmmakers never quite solved the story’s moral dilemma, pic resonates with ethical questions. Convincing as both company men and individuals at extreme moments in their lives, Bauer and Graham hold attention on screen for long stretches. Still, Bauer’s expression of glazed-over semi-mania becomes tired, as do Graham’s frantic efforts to free himself.
Exceptionally handsome low-budget production is strong in every technical department (except Fuzzbee Morse’s excessive score), displaying something of the film blanc mood, setting and style of “The Deep End.”