Just The Beginning, by Tyler Smith
There is a lot to admire about Lee Fanning’s A Genesis Found. The film obviously does not have a very large budget, but that does not stop Fanning from attempting to tell an interesting story with well-developed characters. It could have been very easy for Fanning and his crew to try to slap together a cheapie horror film, but he doesn’t. There are things that he wants to explore and, in doing so, he has made an interesting little film that- while deeply flawed- held my attention in a way I didn’t expect.
The story revolves around an archaeological dig in Alabama. This dig has some history to it, as a young man in the 1930s named John Patton stumbled upon what he thought were extra terrestrial remains. Sixty years later, Patton’s well-meaning grandson, Gardner, gets mixed up in a scheme to further investigate the outrageous claims of his grandfather. As he gets drawn in further by his sly cousin, Bart, Gardner begins to wonder if maybe his grandfather wasn’t crazy after all. As Bart’s true motives are revealed, we are left with an ambiguous ending that is content to leave us with more questions than we started with.
I’ll try to get the bad news out of the way, because I don’t like to revel in the flaws of a passionately-made independent film. And, indeed, many of the flaws are those inherent in indie films. A lot of the acting seems very amateurish, like the actors are simply trying to get through their lines without forgetting. Other performances, however, are way too theatrical. This film takes place in the deep South, and some of the accents are laid on so thick that you would think we were in a Tennessee Williams play.
There are also some dialogue problems here. This is a plot-heavy film. There is a lot to set up, especially because Fanning chooses to cover both John in the 1930s and Gardner in modern day. And while some of the writing is nicely drawn out, so that not too much is revealed at once, a lot of the dialogue can be pretty clunky. I’m not really sure how this could have been remedied, except to scale back on the exposition.
The primary problem with the film is its structure. While I do admire the parallel timelines, the filmmakers don’t seem to know how to make it as intriguing as it could be. This is probably due to the film’s very languid pace. The story- while basically interesting- does not warrant a 120-minute running time. Few things are more frustrating than a good story that overstays its welcome. This is a film that should have been a tight, insightful mystery, rather than a sluggish drama. There is no suspense and there seem to be almost no stakes. Any interest that we might have had in the story slowly and steadily dissipates over the course of the film. Even when a gun is introduced, it is very doubtful that it will ever be used.
At its core, though, there is a lot of depth to this story and these characters. In Gardner, we see an idealist whose early skepticism is cast off with surprising ease. No matter what he may say, he is deeply invested in his grandfather’s reputation and- more importantly- his findings. Elliot Moon turns in a good performance here, as he doesn’t imbue Gardner with too much righteousness. This is a character eager to get involved in an adventure, even if it could lead to trouble down the line.
Probably the most interesting character thematically is Bart. Played with a perpetual grin by Luke Weaver, Bart oozes charm and confidence early in the film. But as the story goes on, we see him for who he really is. Underneath the smooth veneer is a wounded soul whose cynicism about human nature is so profound that it seems almost venomous. Bart is fascinated by people’s desperate need for answers. It’s entirely possible that he, too, was once searching for some deeper meaning to life. But, at some point, it just became easier to stand outside the search and judge it in others. By the end of the film, his contempt for his fellow human beings is palpable. And it’s very likely that the person he hates most of all is himself.
It is the back and forth between Gardner and Bart that drives the film’s conflict. It’s entirely possible that there are no spiritual answers out there; that we are cosmically alone. But what do we do with that? Can we ever really know? And, if we can’t know, what’s the harm in searching?
These are big questions and I like that Fanning is willing to explore them, even if his film is far from perfect. This is one of two recent films released by Wonder Mill Films, a company operating out of Alabama. I have not yet seen their other film, The Nocturnal Third, but it sounds intriguing. And while A Genesis Found has its share of problems, there is no question that director Lee Fanning and Wonder Mill Films are personally invested in producing thoughtful, intelligent film, and I am excited to see what comes next.