Writer-director Patrick Rea strains to sustain mounting dread and unsettling disorientation throughout "The Empty Acre," a low-key indie thriller about an unseen force preying on a Kansas farming community. But the fitfully atmospheric pic is undone by off-putting obfuscation and, worse, a frustrating refusal to reward audience patience with a satisfying (or even coherent) resolution to its knotted mysteries. Niche fests and homevid await after a fleeting showcase at New York's Two Boots Pioneer Theater.

Writer-director Patrick Rea strains to sustain mounting dread and unsettling disorientation throughout “The Empty Acre,” a low-key indie thriller about an unseen force preying on a Kansas farming community. But the fitfully atmospheric pic is undone by off-putting obfuscation and, worse, a frustrating refusal to reward audience patience with a satisfying (or even coherent) resolution to its knotted mysteries. Niche fests and homevid await after a fleeting showcase at New York’s Two Boots Pioneer Theater.

Early scenes abound in foreboding as Rea focuses on the increasingly unhappy marriage of Beth (Jennifer Plas) and Jacob (John Wilson), young parents of a 6-month-old son. At first, the couple’s discontentment appears to be triggering odd phenomena: A shadowy presence is periodically killing off their cattle, and a dead acre on their farm grows steadily larger. After the couple’s baby disappears, however, pic switches gears to suggest another dark force — represented, perhaps, by a nervous stranger (Robert Paisley) — is at work. Aided by lenser Jeremy Osbern and co-editor Ryan Jones, Rea amps the anxiety level with skittish, stream-of-consciousness sequences that accentuate Beth’s precarious mental state. But the uneven performances and sluggish pacing don’t help.

The Empty Acre

Production

A Cinema Epoch Entertainment release of SenoReality Pictures presentation in association with Invidious Prods. of a Rea/Jones production. Produced by Steve Deaver, Ryan Jones, Patrick Rea. Executive producer, Bobby McGee. Directed, written by Patrick Rea.

Crew

Camera (color), Jeremy Osbern; editors, Rea, Ryan Jones; music, Don James; sound, Jones; casting, Heather Laird. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, April 18, 2007. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Jennifer Plas, John Wilson, Robert Paisley, Ari Bavel, Sally Bremenkamp.
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