UNCLE JOHN (2015)
Directed by Steven Piet
Written by Erik Crary & Steven Piet
Starring John Ashton, Alex Moffat, Jenna Lyng Adams, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Cynthia Baker, Adria Dawn, Tim Decker, Don Forston, Janet Glimme, Gary Houston, Matt Kozlowski, Ashleigh LaThrop, Mark Piebenga, Eli Rix, Michael Sassone, Carol Sekorky, Laurent Soucie, Donna Steele, Charles Stransky
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UNCLE JOHN is a somber and electrifyingly tense film celebrating some fantastic acting and a story that is utterly engaging. If you’re looking for a quiet film in the vein of BLUE RUIN, SLING BLADE, A SIMPLE PLAN, and ONE FALSE MOVE, UNCLE JOHN is a new film that earns it’s place in small town tension classics.
UNCLE JOHN opens with a man staggering down a pier and falling into the water. Behind him is John (BEVERLY HILLS COP’s John Ashton) carrying an oar with deadly intention. As the elderly John struggles with to wrap the body and then burn it with some brush in the quarry, it is obvious that we are witness to a murder. But as John tries to cover up his crime, the scene switches from countryside quiet to the hustle and bustle of Chicago, where John’s nephew, a young graphic designer named Ben (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE’s Alex Moffat) is talking with a coworker about getting over his ex girlfriend. Though still grieving the loss of his relationship, Ben is immediately interested in an ad exec named Kate (Jenna Lyng Adams) who is new to his ad agency. As the two become close friends, bonding over shared assignments and nights out at bars, the scene switches back and forth between this budding relationship and John’s plight as he struggles to keep his involvement in the murder quiet as a relative of the deceased named Danny (TRUE DETECTIVE/TWIN PEAKS’ Ronnie Gene Blevins) begins suspecting John had something to do with his brother’s disappearance. As Ben and Kate make their way to Uncle John’s house in the country for a surprise visit, Danny gets closer and closer to the truth, culminating in one tension fueled night when all of them are together.
UNCLE JOHN is an excellent exercise in tension and suspense. Those who are used to a scare a minute or some kind of out of this world action epic with explosions and cartoonish characters beating each other up are going to want to move on, but those of you who like your intrigue grounded and potent are going to want to rush to see this film. With painstaking patience, all of the chess pieces inch towards one another with what looks to be an explosive climax as the revelation of John’s crime seems inevitable. There are scenes in this film that will have you on the seat’s edge, mainly because director/writer Steven Piet and his cowriter Erik Crary do such a fantastic job of making the viewer invested in these wholesome, yet flawed characters. Because Ben is so close to John, because we are invested in the budding relationship between Ben and Kate, and because we see Danny getting closer to the truth, this film effectively pulled me all in to the well being of these characters. This is simply a fantastic and surprisingly simple story of crime, punishment, and retribution.
The entire cast is engaging and terrifically talented. While I’m not a fan of the current SNL cast, I have to admit, Moffat is utterly likable as the nervous and hopeful Ben. His scenes with the beautiful and charismatic Jenna Lyg Adams as Kate make you forget you’re watching a thriller. Seeing them grow close is natural and entrancing. The real surprise though, is John Ashton who always had an intensity about his, but now in his elder years, wears his sins on his face through deep wrinkles and furrowed brows. While speaking very little, he commands every second he is on and off screen as a likable, yet deeply haunted man.
This is a tale of quiet pain and covered up sins. It’s about justice, not right and wrong. It’s a simple tale that never raises its voice, yet commands the room entirely. UNCLE JOHN is masterpiece in suspense that I will soon not forget.
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