Low Yield, by Sarah Brinks
The plight of the small town American farmer is a story told many times in film both fictional and non-fictional. Unfortunately Runoff struggles to ever find its dramatic footing. It is an exercise in poor pacing as it leaves its interesting characters, settings, and plot to march along at a laborious pace and while never managing to engage its audience.
Runoff is about a family of farm suppliers who are having a tough time. Frank, a husband and father, has been struggling to keep his family’s business in the black while dealing with an unnamed illness and stiff competition from a big company called Gigas. Frank’s wife Betty played by Joanne Kelly is a stay at home mom who looks after her two boys. She raises honey, and works at a local farm stand. Betty is the heart of the family (and the film) who will do anything to keep her family together and keep their home and business. The film is really about the struggle of the small farmer and suppliers and what they have to do when competing with big companies who can outbid them. Faced with trying to help her older son pay for college, losing their home to foreclosure and her husband’s impending medical bills, Betty has to make a difficult decision and takes a dangerous and illegal job to save her family.
The subject matter of Runoff is interesting but the film ultimately is slow and not very engaging. The acting in it is strong and the script isn’t bad it is the pace and editing that makes the film drag. There is often a fine line between thoughtful and dull and unfortunately Runoff falls into dull territory more often. This is writer and director Kimberly Levin’s first feature length effort. I think there is talent there she just needs to work on tightening up her shots and scripts. The film is beautifully shot though, cinematographer Hermes Marco captured farm country beautifully. There were a lot of long, static shots that never move the plot forward but are nice to look at. There are also some great details in the set design that help the film feel authentic.
Joanne Kelly is the biggest name in Runoff. Fans of Warehouse 13 will remember her from her role as Myka. All the acting in the film is good, but it is Kelly’s character and performance that holds the film together. She is believable as a wife, mother, and country farmer. The scenes that really stand out are when she interacts with her children. Her younger son Sam is a bit of a spitfire and an independent spirit, but he is also a good kid who loves his family. Finely on the other hand is an outsider who gets bullied and dreams of art school in New York. Kelly’s interactions with the boys bring an energy to the film even when the story lacks energy.
Besides the actors, the setting is Runoff‘s greatest strength. They never state where the film is set but from the accents and landscape I would guess Kentucky or somewhere close. The film really manages to capture small town life from the vast fields, to the general store, to the farmsteads. You also see the reality of what livestock farms are like. You see hundreds of chickens in one room and the milking pens for cows. They also pepper signs of the corporation Gigas infiltrating the town in clever ways. Plus the film is set around Halloween and you get to see how the town gets decorated up for the holiday. There is also the natural theme of transformation that comes associated with Halloween. We see Betty throughout the film go from a woman working at home, watching her kids and raising bees, to her going back to work, to her having to make desperate and dangerous decisions when her husband becomes too sick to run the family business.
Runoff feels like the first effort by the filmmaker but it also displays potential and has some strong acting performances. Fans of Kelly or films about the farming community might be able to overlook the its short comings and enjoy it but I cannot really recommend the film because it did find it very slow and unengaging.