“End of Fall” has its Wisconsin premiere at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Beloit International Film Festival, with an encore showing at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. For more information on the festival, which runs through March 5, visit beloitfilmfest.org.
Something wicked is happening out in those Wisconsin woods. In addition to the finely wrought revenge drama “Uncle John,” shot near Lodi, comes the rural noir “End of Fall,” shot near Lake Geneva. Both films eschew big plot twists or excessive violence for an almost meditative look at crimes and punishments.
“End of Fall,” written and directed by Joselito Seldera, centers on Jackson (Blaise Miller), a young widower trying to raise his teenage daughter Emily (Claire Gordon-Harper) alone and keep the family farm going against tough headwinds.
Most of those headwinds come in the form of Derek (Kyle Sing), a longtime rival of Jackson’s who now owns the bank that owns Jackson’s farm and almost everyone else’s in the region. Derek is a deliberately cruel man, foreclosing on farms just because he can, leaving them to rot. And he decides that Jackson’s farm is next.
While Jackson and Derek are bitter enemies, Emily is close friends with Derek’s son Josh (Jake McLean). When a tragic accident occurs, Jackson hustles to protect his daughter from the consequences — and sees an opportunity to get revenge on Derek, if he can make it happen under the watchful eyes of the local sheriff (an excellent Paul Dillon).
Miller plays Jackson so quiet and closed-off that it takes a while before we realize that he’s scheming away under that trucker cap. It’s an effectively low-key and haunted performance. Unfortunately, Sing plays Derek as too much of a sneering cartoon villain; instead of putting us in an uneasy moral place, “End of Fall” lets us root with a clear conscience for Jackson to beat Derek.
The Wisconsin locations are well used, from the thick forests where crimes are covered up to the tiny farmhouses and bars that mark Jackson’s life. There’s a stunning shot near the end of the film where Jackson is just a tiny figure in the frame, the grey clouds of a storm roiling all around him.
At 85 minutes, the screenplay for “End of Fall” probably needed to either go deeper into the psychological nature of these characters or add more plot development — events unfold at a too stately pace at times. But Seldera clearly has an eye for this sort of material, and “End of Fall” makes for a strong feature-length debut as a director.