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WICHITA (2016)

Directed by Justyn Ah Chong, Matthew D. Ward
Written by Matthew D. Ward
Starring Trevor Peterson, Persia White, Caitlin Gerard, Demetri Goritsas, Christopher Robles, Melinda Lee, Sondra Blake, Adam Carr, Jennifer Christopher, Lenny Citrano, Max Kasch, Clifford Morts, Stephen Cervantes
Find out more about this film here

Being a writer myself, I always find myself endeared to stories about the perils of writing. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment or maybe it’s cathartic seeing others go through some of the same madness I go through at finding that spark of inspiration or just battling for the right word to use. WICHITA is all about the pressures of writing and though it veers more in the thriller with comedic elements category, things get pretty dark in this tale as most stories about writing tend to do.

With his hit children’s TV series hitting a lull in ratings, show creator Jeb (Trevor Peterson) is given the ultimatum to come up with 30 hip and trendy scripts in 30 days and is sent to a writing retreat in Wichita by his studio. With him is two of the show’s writers and three voice cast of the main characters. While things start out fine and dandy, all of dark secrets of those on the retreat begin to emerge. Most importantly, it appears Jeb is having a mental break and is slowly succumbing to the pressure and veering into madness.

Descent into madness stories hinge on the believability of the slow procession into darkness. If there is one broad leap, it becomes unbelievable and it’s up to the writing and the pacing to be pitch perfect. And in WICHITA that descent is pretty believable. Writer/director Matthew D. Ward and his co-director Justyn Ah Chong do a pretty great job of inching up the pressure on Jeb as the story goes on. Toss in a little twisted childhood trauma that Jeb revisits when he is voted off the island mid-film, and it’s believable that Jeb is one push away from completely snapping into crazy town. Peterson is also convincing in the role as a somewhat reclusive, yet well intentioned guy trying to lead this group but simply lacking the skills to do so. This is the perfect scenario for crazy shit to happen and it does.

The surefire way to break up a team is toss them into a team building exercise and this film proves it in spades. There’s a lot of subtle humor going on here. It’s not “slap your momma and call her Suzy” humor, but there are quite a few moments at the beginning that will cause a titter or two. But when things get murdery, the tone continues to illustrate the pressures of the struggling writer in a way that I empathized with. The scenes where Jeb gives in to the madness aren’t necessarily overly graphic or gory, but the feeling of unease of a man pushed to the edge of sanity is definitely palpable in this one. If you are interested in the writing process, this is one to look out for. It is just shy of batshit crazy, but WICHITA does illustrate a steady and subtle slip into madness rather well.