Review by Sean Boelman
What is defined as low-budget filmmaking has changed over the years, but there are still a few filmmakers who are working on a very small scale with a cast and crew made up of their friends to create truly no-budget pictures. Mickey Reece is one such director, and his newest feature, Country Gold, offers more of what he has come to be known for.
The movie follows an up-and-coming country musician who gets the opportunity of a lifetime to meet his idol, now a washed-up former superstar who has decided to have himself cryogenically frozen. Like the rest of Reece’s films, it’s a pretty wild premise but the movie itself is rather tame, being mostly a series of conversations with some weird imagery thrown in there.
If you’ve never seen one of his movies, this is definitely not the place to start. His films are very quirky, almost to the point of feeling random. Reece is one of the last remaining truly independent filmmakers, and the result is that he can do pretty much whatever he wants with his movies, for better or worse. So this film, in particular, feels really unrestrained, albeit admirably so.
There are some interesting themes in the movie about fame and legacy, and while these are hardly original thoughts, the way that Reece explores them is undeniably idiosyncratic. Although it’s not a particularly scary movie by any means, it’s hypnotic in an almost Lynchian way, creating a very uneasy feeling.
The biggest strength of the film is its characters. Reece starts with the archetypes but builds them out in a complex and nuanced way. For much of the movie, the characters exist in a morally gray area — which works well given that the film is in black-and-white — and yet, the audience never feels overly distant from them.
And yet, Reece’s own performance in the leading role gets in the way of some of its success. He’s mildly annoying, and while the character isn’t supposed to be the most charming guy in the world, having someone else in the role likely would have been better. On the other hand, Ben Hall absolutely rules as the grizzled, aging star of yesteryear.
The black-and-white cinematography is arguably more for budgetary reasons than anything else — it’s much easier to periodize a movie set in the past in black-and-white than color — but Reece creates an interesting atmosphere using it. There are some effects that are less than stellar, but given the low budget, it’s understandable why.
Mickey Reece’s films are certainly an acquired taste, but for those who are a fan of his zany, DIY style, Country Gold is sure to be a treat. Even if its ideas don’t all come together, the fact that it even exists is almost a miracle in and of itself.
Country Gold screened at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs July 13 through August 3.