‘Brutal Season’ Burns Bright But Misses Its Opportunity
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Brutal Season, dir. Gavin Fields
Set up immediately as a stage play for the screen, Brutal Season starts incredibly strong. As it introduces the time period, setting, and characters with a warm & welcoming narration we start on a path that suggests this has something different to offer than just a play stylized for film. But as the story unfolds the impact feels rather small. This has nothing to do with the single setting or limited cast of characters, but where the story’s winding mystery leads us. Fields directs his emotions incredibly well into his actors, an attribute that overshadows each one of their performances that almost overrides their plain method of line reading. Whether the matter-of-fact way the characters interact with each other is tied to the 1940s period or a deliberate choice, some may not be on board for how this presents.
The Trouths are a small family living in a seaside town. Charlie, the head of the family, takes his constitutionals around the docks near the apartment he and his family live in. One day his nomadic son Junior returns home unannounced, and that night as Charlie leaves to go on his walk along the docks he doesn’t come back.
Brutal Season treats the events following that development with enigmatic poise. After the arrival of two police officers to provide the family with a grim update on Charlie’s wellbeing, that poise starts to teeter when the examination of the Trouths themselves becomes necessary. Under a microscope the characters of each family member don’t have very much dimension save for the wayward son Junior, whose sudden arrival raises questions in the investigating law enforcement (at this point offscreen or, offstage). A series of interviews or interrogations sets each Trouth family member on edge, as it has been revealed that Charlie had taken out a life insurance policy that would promise a large payout in the event of a homicidal end. Most of the film sees us going through this investigation, each family member talking through their series of events as well as their history with their father and husband.
The mystery surrounding the Trouth family is a pretty basic one, the answer to which is evident nearly right away if not then during the climax. But in the end Brutal Season doesn’t seem all that concerned with what kind of mystery it’s trying to weave but the aftermath instead. In this case the film conveys a sadness but still largely indifferent, almost to ask itself “what can you do?” in an attempt to pick up the pieces again and try to move on. But those themes don’t present themselves in a way that announces agency over what has come before. And by the time the story feels like it’s reached a natural stage of moving on, not having absorbed the reality of the scorn that came before, it ends. It spends too much time in dressing up the procedures of a mystery that it ends up shortchanging any real marked growth in the majority of the family members. It’s a decent single-setting play but the use of the medium of film doesn’t add anything that the story as a stage production wouldn’t have carried. It remains to be said however, that there is something in the very idea of this that can be honed and perfected. There’s promise in it for Fields, and I know he’ll find it.