Review by Sean Boelman
A lot of thrillers capitalize on the common fear of losing a loved one, particularly a parent losing a child, yet it is far less common for there to be a drama exploring the emotional impact of such a tragedy. Vlad Feier’s new film Still Here attempts to do just that, with an uneven but affecting story benefitting from a great lead performance.
The movie follows a family grieving after their daughter goes missing and the journalist who investigates their story, going beyond his job description in his search to find her. It’s not a film that is meant to be easy to watch, but it also doesn’t have quite enough substance to feel like more than a tearjerker.
A lot of the movie’s issues can be boiled down to the fact that the story feels very out of focus. It’s not quite sprawling enough to be an ensemble drama, but also nowhere near intimate enough to work as a character study. By trying to establish two protagonists, the film loses a lot of the emotional impact that either one of them would have on their own.
The movie would have done better to explore the broken family dynamic after their daughter goes missing. The father character is definitely the most compelling of the bunch, presenting the most personal angle on the story, but his wife feels like a throwaway character that easily could have been used for a more substantial purpose.
Maurice McRae is the standout in his leading role, giving a performance that is full of empathy and humanity. Unfortunately, everyone else in the cast feels somewhat disappointing. Johnny Whitworth is rather bland, feeling rather cold. Admittedly, a lot of the fault can be placed on the script, which gives him a character that is distant from the conflict.
Also disappointing is the fact that the film fails to really explore the failures of the justice system. There is a clear perspective which the movie should have addressed, involving how cases involving African-American victims are treated differently than their Caucasian counterparts, and yet this is largely left underdeveloped.
Visually, the film is very subdued, but it works to emphasize the emotion in the script and performances. At times, it almost seems like Feier is trying to go for a gritty crime thriller feel, and those moments rarely deliver. But when Feier allows his movie to breathe, it achieves most of its goals, even if it doesn’t exceed expectations.
There are some really good things happening in Still Here, but it definitely would have benefitted from a bit more refinement. Had the writers focused some of the energy wasted on subplots elsewhere, it would have been a lot more effective.
Still Here hits VOD on September 4.