Monday, March 11, 2013

Welcome to Pine Hill

Welcome to Pine Hill is a low budget independent film, currently playing at the IFC, which displays an almost disconcerting ingenuousness. It’s rare that we see a film that tackles emotion in such a dead-on way. Neither irony nor satire present themselves as rabbit holes through which the filmmaker can escape his protagonist’s fate. The fate by the way is a rare form of stomach cancer, which constantly has him retching. Keith Miller, who directed, has one of his two Hitchockian cameos in the beginning, when he argues with his lead, Shannon Harper over a dog. Apparently the scene is based upon a real altercation that took place and, we would take it, ignited the mixture of reality and fiction that constitutes the story--though where reality ends and fiction begins is never really clear, nor does it seem to matter. Shannon, a reformed drug dealer, works as an insurance adjuster and his interviews with clients parallel his own interviews with the doctors who diagnose his condition. The film, which has won awards at Slamdance and other festivals, is really about Shannon’s making peace with his past after receiving the diagnosis. He repays a debt to his mother and to a street hood. He has words with an employee at a bar where he has a second job as a bouncer and he also has words with one of his homies. Then he gets on a Trailways bus where he retches some more and ends up in Phoenicia, New York and the little hamlet of Pine Hill from which the film derives its name. There Miller tips his hat to The Blair Witch Project by having his character swallowed up by the same kind of woods that characterized that lucrative footnote to the history of independent cinema.

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