Nicholas Wagner’s debut film “The Holy Sound” could lazily be described as Gus Van Sant meets David Lynch. That would be doing it a disservice however as it would ignore its subtlety and uniqueness. If anything, Wagner, who scripts, directs, edits, and provides the score, seems more influenced by early David Gordon Green. In the film, Rory (Ian Carmona), an intelligent but jaded high school student, is drawn inside a cave by an ambient sound which affects the listeners like a drug. He returns and brings company but soon realizes that the obelisk that emits the sound requires a blood sacrifice to maintain its potency. You could say the film is about how much these teenagers are willing to sacrifice to continue getting their fix but that too would be lazy. Using elliptical editing and floating dialogue, the film dreamily follows disaffected and probably medicated suburban youth as they deal with the discovery. The film nails a very specific feeling you have when you are a teenager. Wagner understands how important and good it can feel to be included and how cutting it can feel to be left out.
Special attention must be paid to the photography of J. Michael Whalen (one of the only technical aspects Wagner does not handle). The cinematographer on a no budget film has the task of breathing life into what could otherwise be static dialogue scenes and must use light to suggest what could not exist on set. Whalen’s bold color cinematography recalls Luciano Tovoli and his handheld camerawork is reminiscent of Matthew Libatique. Another standout is the stunning Elyse Dufour as Parker. As the lone female character, she bounces around and collides with the men in the film. She brings real sadness and frustration to the proceedings.
The film’s only weaknesses lie in the abundant dialogue the actors are tasked with. There are times where the younger actors get tripped up on lines that were probably more clever and convincing on the page. Also, a majority of the film’s dialogue is looped and it doesn’t match the fullness of the scenes with location sound. There isn’t enough ambient noise to make the ADR convincing. It takes away from the narrative and reminds you you’re watching a movie.
Nicholas Wagner has done two very bright things in making “The Holy Sound”. First, he has made a film which is memorable. He sets himself apart as a director to watch. I doubt that anyone who has seen the Holy Sound won’t be curious to see what he does next. The Holy Sound does not fall into the same trap as other no budget indie films which struggle to ape higher budget mainstream fare. This is not a film where kids are playing dress up. It is a film made by a very intelligent young man about other intelligent, frustrated young men and women. The second thing he does right is to give the film away for free. At 55 minutes, it is technically a feature under the strict definition of the word and by most film festival criteria. But he is smart enough to realize that a 55 minute film with no name actors and with no exploitable elements is probably not going to find a worthy home with any distributor. So he gives it away. For all to see and get excited about what he will unleash on us next.
The Holy Sound is available to watch for free at http://theholysound.net