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I fell pretty confident in declaring that CICADAS, from Kat Candler, the same filmmaker who brought us the earlier ultra-depressing, though slightly more accomplished Reel 13 Indie JUMPING OFF BRIDGES, is the absolute worst film shown on Reel 13 so far this year. As much as I loathe the contrivances and major tonal issues within WILBY WONDERFUL, at least it had a sense of cinematic expression. I haven't seen a film in a long time, let alone on a major television station, that was so poorly executed.
CICADAS is probably one of the least expensive indies they've shown so far (only TWO HARBORS might have been slightly cheaper), but its microbudget is no excuse for poor storytelling. Both myself and most audiences can forgive a lack of extras or dolly shots or sparse production design, but as long as you can afford a camera, the rules of cinematic storytelling still apply.
CICADAS gets started on a very bad note with an overwritten voice-over that sounds like a last place entry in an amateur poetry contest. It is a prediction of the clunky, forced symbolism that Candler tries to imbue throughout the film. Things get worse when the actors start to speak. Candler is once again dealing with teenagers and again, she seems to be using non-actors. Obviously, finding trained, quality actors is a challenge on a small budget, but it is possible and quite frankly, essential. If you don't believe the characters you are following are real, the whole experience of the film is minimized and you are lost. It's enough of a risk to invest time and money into a film and then to place that investment on the shoulders of a young, untrained cast. A very dangerous proposition. Unfortunately, Candler does not seem to have the skills as a director to guide her inexperienced cast to portray real, three-dimensional human beings.
Even worse, Candler does not seem to have any idea what she's doing with blocking for the camera or even in the editing room. The staging and her camera placement is extremely uninspired and unrealistic throughout and yet these are essential skills for making a film. Characters are often just sitting around when someone approaches them to start a scene. When are people ever just sitting around? People do things GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS SOMETHING TO DO. Then, when the one character approaches the sitting character, they don't really have a choice but to sit next to the other character. So, now you have a scene (many of which are long) with two sitting characters. That's boring, unrealistic and unnecessary. The big moment of the film in which the two main characters are on a date-type thing, they are in a field and the most exciting thing they do is spin around in circles with their hands spread out. They look like they're having a blast, but I don't buy it for a second. It just made me dizzy.
As a low-budget filmmaker, you're already starting behind the eight ball with so many financial limitations in terms of locations, cast, equipment, shooting days, etc. that the only way you are going to make up the gap is by confident, strong storytelling. CICADAS fails to do that. Now, I'll admit that though Kat Candler's follow-up film, JUMPING OFF BRIDGES, made me want to slit my wrists, it seems she had learned a lot of these skills that she lacked during the production of CICADAS. In that sense, it could be argued that CICADAS was a stepping stone or a learning experience, but that doesn't mean it deserves a spot on an independent cinema program in the nation's largest television market. And hopefully, we fans of Reel 13 won't have to endure anything like it again.
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