There are so many things to admire about Kevin Ackerman's short feature Lonely Place that it's hard to know what to praise first. The meticulous beauty of its physical detail and visual realization are two obvious virtues. Indeed, as John Ottman's oceanic music swells beneath that rainfall of ripe peaches at the fade-in, one might describe Ackerman's filmic style as symphonically meticulous. The place is a farm north of Fresno, California, in 1949. Tess Harper is the mistress of the spread, an intense, frustrated housewife who attends to her duties with the unseeing steadiness of a sleepwalker. Kurtwood Smith is her cranky, neglectful husband -- a man who seems to have whittled his 'round-the-clock facial expression from the same wood he's used to make those tobacco pipes he's always either clenching in his teeth or emptying, with annoying precision, in spots his wife has just cleaned. Tomas Arana is the raggedy drifter who appears at this couple's peach tree like a Biblical figment. He seems more skeletal than flesh, and more silhouette than man. He oozes menace -- a quality that, to the wife's near-hysterical bewilderment, goes unnoticed by her husband as he hires this man to help with their peach harvest. What ensues is a demonic retelling of the Garden of Eden story, in which Eve finds herself alone with two serpents.
Because I count Kevin Ackerman as a close friend, I'm in a position to know the years of hard work he spent getting this film right -- and like many friends, I often worried that he was chasing a holy grail of perfection that would stay forever out of his reach. I needn't have worried. Whatever imperfections may be present in Lonely Place, excellence is achieved throughout -- even technical mastery, of a precocious kind. Ackerman's exquisite dissolves, which marry the roundness of peaches to that of full moons and the whorls of circular darkness which gape in the mouth of a man's pipe, are not simply there to show off his style, much as one might marvel -- they also underscore the interior transitions, the psychic puzzle-pieces gradually coming together in the mind of a woman being threatened by a violence that is welling as much from within herself as from the two wretched men in her life.
Lonely Place is a strikingly well-wrought first film, a feature in miniature. Ackerman succeeds precisely because he has been so steadfast in seeing its music, rhythms and visual bravura through to their optimal states of power, and narrative effect.
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