Review: ‘Radiant’

"Radiant" is a dazzling first work from scripter-helmer Steve Mahone that spins off fears of worldwide viruses and the more timeless consideration of death. Pic marks the debut of Dallas-based film production company Silo Media and is certain to get tongues wagging at adventurous festivals and gain nocturnal allies on the midnight movie circuit.

Pumping new life and vigorous cinematic imagination into science fiction paranoia, “Radiant” is a dazzling first work from scripter-helmer Steve Mahone that spins off fears of worldwide viruses and the more timeless consideration of death. Firmly tucked into the ultra-low-budget tradition of “Dark Star” and “Eraserhead,” pic marks the debut of Dallas-based film production company Silo Media and is certain to get tongues wagging at adventurous festivals and gain nocturnal allies on the midnight movie circuit.

Prelude graphics and a slightly sweaty voiceover narration — reminiscent of the ghostly vocal style of storyteller Joe Frank — by main character Ed (James Cable, also producer) establish a disturbing near-future desert setting, where genetic scientist Dr. Teller Blackpoole (Jim Covault) is in exile.

Doc has devised a “super virus” that theoretically will wipe out killer viruses sans side effects. Like a guru, he has attracted several patients with debilitating illnesses to his desert compound, but a government gambit to shut the renegade facility down accidentally unleashes a spread of the virus-to-end-all-viruses.

Ed, as Blackpoole’s favorite, has been experimenting with the super virus on farm animals in a nearby barn, and is protected from the accidental leak by his hazmat suit. The others — Trish (Sandy Fish), Ray (Matthew Tompkins), Michael (Jeremy Schwartz) and Molly (Laurel Whitsett) — aren’t so protected, and with Ed’s help, must try to stave off the virus’ still-unknown effects while escaping from government agents.

Ed’s perspective dominates “Radiant.” Narration seems excessive at first until it attains a hallucinatory effect through its sheer insistence on auds’ attention, much like the similarly philosophical narration in Chris Marker’s sci-fi classic, “La Jetee.”

Visually, pic puts to shame the vast majority of indie vid-shot features with a panoply of colors, images and moods, some inspired by the mind-altering effect that being out in the desert sun too long can produce. Mahone works tightly and with extreme economy alongside a small team of cast members and a resourceful production crew (lenser Alan Ray’s work stands out). Notably, Mahone applies a gorgeous, painterly approach to his picture-making while keeping one eye on the thriller aspect of his drama.

Cable and his fellow actors play up the obviously demanding physical strains of running through wastelands or suggesting a viral attack with perfs that verge on documentary realism. Unlike most midnight movies, “Radiant” tends to shy away from a sense of humor about its threatening, weird world, but it delivers an audio-visual experience that suggests new cinematic possibilities for low-end digital filmmaking.

Radiant

Production

A Silo Media production in association with Wolfclan Prods. (International sales: Silo Media, Dallas.) Produced by James Cable. Co-producer, Matt Tompkins. Directed, written by Steve Mahone.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Alan Ray; editor, Steven Baker; music, Bruce Richardson; production designer, Christopher DiMarco; sound, Rodney Petreikis ; sound designer, Richardson; visual effects supervisor, Baker, Petreikis. Reviewed at Cinevegas Film Festival, Las Vegas, June 13, 2005. Running time: 107 MIN.

With

James Cable, Jim Covault, Sandy Fish, Jeremy Schwartz, Matthew Tompkins, Laurel Whitsett, Bobby Urutia.
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