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Synapse Films presents
Stillwater (2003)

"Yeah, with two 'R's, like the dead singer."
- Andrew Morrison (Andrew Hulse)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: January 25, 2006

Stars: Andrew Hulse
Other Stars: Jeff Evans, Russell P. Nix, V. Kim Blish
Director: Adrian Kays

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:29m:00s
Release Date: November 15, 2005
UPC: 654930305096
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- C-C+B C-

DVD Review

Every now and then an independent film comes along with a fresh new take on a somewhat stale genre. On its good side, Stillwater director Adrian Kays gives us the freshness we're looking for, but once he gets things going, he doesn't know what to do with the momentum he's built. Kays' missteps leave this reviewer in a bit of a quandary. Recommending edgy films is something I love to do, but I just can't quite pull the trigger on such praise this time.

Andrew Morrison (Andre Hulse) is a young college graduate who's still trying to find his way. After learning of his adoption, Andrew begins delving deeper into a past that he never knew. Despite his college degree, Andrew works at a clothing store and lives with his parents, whom he chooses not to confront about their paternal deception. Without their guidance, he finds his birth mother, and is soon dealing with facts that he was never prepared for, information that will lead him down a path to destruction.

Stillwater wears its low budget on its sleeve, but the amateur look and feel isn't what keeps it from excelling. The opening and closing of the film are the culprits, with the first 15 minutes making the character of Andrew a tough emotional investment. Kays spends too much time showing us how creative he can be with visuals and an audio mix, trying to channel David Lynch instead of giving the viewer a more concrete and coherent exposition. Kays is far from holding a candle to Lynch's work at this point, but with work he could get there.

Once we finally settle in to what Andrew faces, Stillwater really takes off. Kays tones down his visual tricks, allowing a compelling story to take center stage. Hulse does a fine job as the focal point, brooding his way to pulling off a truly creepy, disturbed individual. A fine supporting cast is in play as well, but this is Hulse's show. I'm not sure if Hollywood is in Hulse's future, but there is the potential for a fruitful career in independent features.

While not as off-putting as the opening, the climax also leaves something to be desired, dragging the story down a notch. Creating a post-viewing discussion is a sign of an effective story, but leaving the finale completely ambiguous is often a fatal flaw. Kays builds up a bunch of information about Andrew's past, then pulls the rug out, answering almost none of the many questions he raises. There's a fine line between creating a compelling, satisfying mystery and shamelessly teasing the audience. The final shot mirrors the opening one, with one difference; a sequence that will leave your head spinning towards a second viewing that, unfortunately, won't do a lot to clear things up.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is far from spectacular. Grain is prevalent, but image clarity is surprisingly consistent, and the transfer is generally sharp on the whole. A vibrant color scheme is also in play, blending in nicely with the rest of the visual aspects.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The surprising inclusion of a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix proves to be welcome, thanks in large part to the aggressive surround usage. Channel separation is very impressive, and the dialogue remains clear and decipherable at all times.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/director Adrian Kays, cinematographer Lyn Moncrief, actor Andrew Hulse
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: There are only a few extras, including an audio commentary track with writer/director Adrian Kays, cinematographer Lyn Moncrief, and the lead actor, Andrew Hulse. This is a light and informative track, where the participants talk mostly about shooting Stillwater on such a low budget and the actors' solid work.

Also on board is a bio on Kays, a trailer for Stillwater, and a photo gallery.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

An intriguing premise and solid middle section can't save the indie flick Stillwater. While this project might not launch any careers, it isn't a horrible excursion into the psychological problems of an adult who learns he was adopted. Synapse's DVD is a nice package, featuring solid audio and video presentations, but only a couple of supplemental features.


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