In “Angels Crest,” guilt eats away at a young father whose momentary lapse of judgment caused his 3-year-old son to freeze to death. Another in the procession of dead-children movies that followed Atom Egoyan’s magisterial “The Sweet Hereafter,” helmer Gaby Dellal’s sophomore effort unfolds in a similarly snow-blanketed small town filled with grieving adults, the community divided in apportioning blame. In contrast with Egoyan’s labyrinthine structure and complex storylines, “Crest” cobbles together bits of plot and a motley assortment of half-formed characters. Opening Dec. 30 in limited release, this wintry tearjerker figures to melt away quickly.
The opening scenes establish a believably deep bond between Ethan (Thomas Dekker) and his bright, loving son, Nate (Ameko Eks Mass Carroll), as they embark on an adventure in the woods. When Nate falls asleep, Ethan, seduced by the mist-shrouded beauty of the mountains, tracks a couple of deer down to a river, leaving Nate locked in the truck. When Ethan returns minutes later, Nate has disappeared. He searches frantically for the boy, but only finds him the next morning, too late to save him from the elements. Devastated by his loss, Ethan abandons himself to grief.
While there is a great deal of weeping and wailing going on in the town of Angels Crest, little of it is connected to a comprehensible or cohesive plot. Where Egoyan’s adaptation of Russell Banks’ bestseller peopled the screen with fully formed, autonomous characters, Catherine Trieschmann’s screenplay from Leslie Schwartz’s novel sets into motion a gaggle of walking wounded, leaving thesps Elizabeth McGovern, Mira Sorvino and Kate Walsh to aimlessly wander through town trailing remnants of backstories.
Nate’s mother (Lynn Collins), a rampant alcoholic and sometime slut, randomly ricochets from hysteria to anger to despair. The cynical lesbian artist played by Walsh cracks phallic jokes while wrestling with her heart-on-her-sleeve partner’s (McGovern) hopeless affection for her visiting homophobic slug of a son (Julian Domingues). A local cafe owner (Sorvino) struggles to raise her little daughter alone, while her b.f. (Joseph Morgan) sleeps with his best friend Ethan’s ex.
And the county D.A. (Jeremy Piven) feels compelled by some deeply rooted past trauma (cryptically referred to by Ethan’s friend and signaled by Piven’s mournful glances at children, but perversely unexplained to the audience) to prosecute Ethan to the full extent of the law. None of these melodramatic threads can claim any real substance; one has the feeling of stumbling into a soap opera entitled “Angels Crest,” having missed all the preceding episodes.
In contrast with the tumbleweed theatrics of its plot, the pic intelligently exploits its stunning Canadian natural vistas (standing in for an unspecified U.S. locale). Vet British cinematographer David Johnson’s widescreen compositions never unduly prettify the alpine grandeur nor cozily gentrify the weathered authenticity of the film’s snowbound working-class town.