A correction was made to this review on March 22, 2005.
An exorcism of personal demons during a pilgrimage to Jamaica propels “Runt,” writer-director-producer-actor Michael Phillip Edwards’ ritualistic, semi-autobiographical drama addressing the meaning of manhood. If the final message and resolution play too pat for the screen (as they did not in Edwards’ one-man stage version, which won top honors at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest), the force of Edwards’ two-role performance remains astonishing. Pic is a quality programmer for African American and indie fests and could get glances from distribs with enough fest and critical support.
Husband Christopher (Edwards) shares an unhappy home life in Los Angeles with wife Cynthia (Nadege August). Christopher stops just short of hitting Cynthia, and she orders him out of the house. Afraid of repeating his father’s abusive ways with his own son, Jamaican-born Christopher wings to Kingston and visits a “healer” (Milton Smith), who notes that Christopher “has lost his soul in America” and should go on a walkabout of the island.
Play’s central image was a circle drawn in dirt, forming an arena for the protag to confront himself. This is preserved and explained in the film as an Obeah circle used for generations in African-based societies for rites of spiritual cleansing.
Christopher literally sweats out his past memories of his father Henry (also Edwards) bossing around his family in their 1974 Los Angeles home. Henry’s drunken rages also sent him packing, but he wanted to take little Christopher (Chance A. Smith) with him. However, Christopher was much too afraid of his father to go.
Ever since he was a toddler, Christopher was called a “runt” by his father, but, as often happens with dramas concerned with the purging of pain, the final breakthrough to enlightenment arrives a little too neatly. A final meeting in the present with his father (Carl Bradshaw) doesn’t provide quite the dramatic thunderclap that might be expected, but instead provides a quiet confirmation for the son that he’s grown up.
Edwards dominates nearly every frame of the pic, and, if the text is a bit dense for film, his sheer emotional commitment and physicality create a strong visceral image that’s extremely well suited to the screen. Behind the camera, Edwards favors heightened close-ups and hallucinogenic optical effects as a sometimes obvious means for getting inside Christopher’s head. Production package, taking in a range of locales, is excellent on a low budget.