Small Town Murder Songs - DVD Review

'the choice of where the plot goes just doesn't help the director to pull his theorising together with anything we care about'

Whilst it may not have the star power of fellow genre resident The Frozen Ground (a comparison point only because I've watched that recently too), Ed Gass-Donnelly's Small Town Murder Songs does at least attempt to do something new with the Cop Thriller. This is an airy and theoretical take on a tried and tested plot, with Peter Stormare in typically menacing form as a policeman with a dodgy past, brought into focus by a recent murder.

For all that Gass-Donnelly does that is good though, it should be noted that the over-riding arc here is one tied to faith, possibly the most over-used motif for the genre. Walter (Stormare) has reinvented himself after a violent incident and now, somehow still a member of the police force, he relies on regular visits to the local church and a devout home life to get through the daily grind. Gass-Donnelly does at least have the conviction of Walter's beliefs to take the theory through to the film's finale, which is inextricably tied to bible teaching, but this is still wading in thematic waters we have been through time and time again.

This then is old considerations in a new wrapper, with the attractive casting of Stormare to see it through. In that equation, it is more than a shame when it emerges that most of what Gass-Donnelly brings to the table just doesn't work.

For starters, there's a monumentally loud soundtrack of a chanting chorus (presumably the titular wails), which fit the biblical requirement but not the quiet and considered air the director composes with his camera. It shows up all of the time, sometimes in the least predictable moments, screaming over the very still credits or as a truck quietly drives down a road. In isolation, I'm sure it's fantastic but it just doesn't fit with anything else happening here.

More significantly, the choice of where the plot goes just doesn't help the director to pull his theorising together with anything we care about. There are hints that perhaps we should care about Walter's partner Jim (Aaron Poole) and his family, but as soon as Gass-Donnelly has set that up he drops it and Jim's story goes nowhere. It's difficult to care for either of the ladies in Walter's life, simply because we hardly see them, his pissed-off Dad matters not a jot to anything going on and the victim's back story is not so much told as flashed in front of you like a perverse memory test.

Considering the pace (best summed up by the shot of a slow-moving tractor crawling across the background) perhaps the director could have taken more time than the film's seventy-five minutes. Certainly this needed some fleshing out in the areas that matter if Gass-Donnelly's good work was ever going to have a chance to truly show itself.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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