Let me start this review with a warning: after watching Come Morning, it’s likely that you’ll never want to walk in the woods alone again. This film so vividly destroyed any notion I’ve ever had of a stroll through the forest being a peaceful, enjoyable experience that I want to hate it, but I simply can’t. The film is too memorable and too excellent for me to have any feelings of dislike toward it, despite the fact I’ll never again be able to enjoy nature without looking over my shoulder again.
Come Morning tells the story of D (Thor Wahlestedt) and his grandfather Frank (Michael Ray Davis) who accidentally shoot a trespassing neighbor while hunting deer. It isn’t as simple as calling the authorities and reporting an accident though, due to a long history of land disputes between the two families, so Frank and D set out to bury the body deep within the woods.
A multiple mile trek through the Arkansas woods in the middle of winter is no easy task for a little boy and an elderly man, but it’s complicated further by the fact that they’re pushing a dead body in a wheelbarrow. Throw in a couple redneck neighbors who aren’t the brightest, but are all the more aggressive for it, and you’ve got a pretty intense journey.
The film is profound, yet subtle as it runs through so many thought-provoking questions and themes that it’s almost hard to keep up. First, there’s the moral dilemma of an accidental murder and the guilt that comes with it, but there’s also an impossibility of self-forgiveness, the price of independence, and perhaps most importantly, pride. None of these are bashed over the audience’s head, rather they lay beneath the surface, setting a consistent tone for the actions of all the characters.
It’s heartbreaking to watch the boy’s innocent be battered away. His story is so torturous that you almost want to stop watching, yet he takes the pain in such a real way that it’s impossible to look away. Nothing Wahlestedt does seems forced, yet his performance is more than the innocence of a child actor, as he’s able to carry the film along almost single-handedly. Not that he needs to carry the film by any means, there’s hardly a weak performance in the entire cast, but Wahlestedt shines far brighter than the rest.
Frank couldn’t have been cast better. Davis is just about perfect in the role, which requires him to say so much through such little dialogue. He’s a character with layers, willing to never speak of a horrible thing again, yet struggles to hide the pain he feels at watching his grandson lose any notions of innocence.
The story doesn’t follow the predictable route, and the result is greatly increased suspense throughout. The tension is built, elevated, and just when it seems like the stakes couldn’t get any higher, maximized. That tension is partially due to the well-written story, but it also owes a great deal to the phenomenal score by Justin Slaughter. Every mesmerizing note he chooses works toward the greater goal of increasing the gravity of each scene. He takes the slow moments of the film and fills them with such beautiful yet seat-gripping sounds that those scenes become as intense as the high-stakes action sequences. Slaughter could be the next big thing in horror composition, so remember his name.
As great as the music is, director Derrick Sims shows great restraint by knowing exactly when to remove the score. Many times in film death serves as the catalyst for an extremely emotional piece of music with the goal of making the last moments of someone’s life as heart-wrenching as possible. Instead of following that mold, Sims fills some of the most emotional scenes with the most powerful sound of all: silence. The effect is immense.
Perhaps most stunning from the film is the way that each shot is expertly composed. Any number of shots could be pulled from the film and framed as a piece of art. The result is a film that is far more than entertainment – it’s a piece of art itself. The opening is so meticulously crafted that it’s impossible not to be instantly drawn into the film. For the majority of the film to be shot in the dark, it’s incredible how it still looks so beautiful. Sims opted to shoot the film himself, and that may have been the best decision he’s ever made as a director.
That doesn’t mean the film isn’t completely without flaws. Multiple scenes linger a few lines or moments longer than they need to. While those delays do contribute to the pace of the film, each scene would have more pop if we were taken out sooner. For the most part the flashbacks work well, however, there is a dream sequence that feels extremely out of place. I’ve never been a big fan of dream sequences, especially when they jar you out of an extremely gritty and realistic story, and that’s the case here. But other than a few minor issues, it’s hard to find any glaring flaws that detract from film.
In case I haven’t made it clear yet, I thoroughly enjoyed Come Morning. It isn’t the type of light film that can be watched over and over again, but it’s the sort of rich film where more understanding will certainly be gained from multiple viewings. The excellent story is made even better by superb performances and some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve seen. If you never see Come Morning, you’ll have missed out on an outstanding, memorable film.
It isn't for everyone, and it certainly won't be considered one of the feel-good movies of the year, but if you appreciate beautiful cinematography and a well-crafted story that still leaves space for thought, Come Morning is an absolute must-see.