Review: Overwhelm the Sky (2019)

Overwhelm the Sky is a boldly aspirational indie epic.

Going off of director Daniel Kremer’s other pieces of work (Ezer Kenegdo, Raise Your Kids on Seltzer), it comes as no surprise that his latest film is so aspiring.

Starting off with a dedication to Paul Sylbert, the late great oscar winning production designer of films like Heaven Can Wait, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Kramer vs. Kramer, Overwhelm the Sky is clearly a piece of work influenced by a different era of cinema. Inspired by Charles Brockden Brown’s 1799 novel “Edgar Huntly, or Memoirs of a Sleepwalker”, Kremer does his mentor Sylbert proud. This is a psychologically sprawling, existential, noir that evokes the days of European cinema movements, narrative experimentation and cinema as an epic form of expression and an artistic experience.

Reminding me at points of Chinatown, Eyes Wide Shut and Citizen Kane in some of its shots, as well as the movies of Paul Thomas Anderson (particularly The Master), with a plot that carries an edge reminiscent of ‘60s and ‘70s cinema, this is an ambitious rarity. Three different cuts exist: a roadshow style (with an orchestral overture, intermission and extra scene), this ‘188 cut I was fortunate to view and a ‘124 cut (for ease at certain festival screenings). This longer cut is surely definitive. While methodical, it allows for much thought to develop from this slower pace and once things start unfolding, this long build proves necessary in the formation of some gripping themes.

The story concerns radio host Edgar “Eddie” Huntly (Alexander Hero), who is deeply affected by the murder of his fiancee’s (Nima Slone) brother in a park mugging turned fatal. He regularly visits the spot in the park trying to make sense of it and moreover life itself, but as things progress, new revelations come to pass and the situation becomes far more complex. Despite some sequences that play out as a Frantic-esque thriller, or where the psychological make-up of the film becomes challenging and distorted, this film leaves things – to some degree – open to your own readings. As it makes home in the headspace of humanity under times of stress and at crisis.

Initially unwrapping its layers slowly, and brazenly risking some people’s connection to it as a result, Overwhelm the Sky is at times ambiguous and at others revelatory. While some people may have a looser grasp on the film’s purposed meanings than others, this piece of work invites contemplation and is poetic in its dissections of human life. Its title alone reflects its poetic identity further, as it refers to an enticing backstory within the film, surrounding a particularly vital character.

Admittedly some minor characters and sub-plots don’t seem to tie-up as wholesomely as Edgar’s main journey of discovery. But by the end though you are left with a mirrored – and ironically shattering – conclusion. As Edgar’s investigation and plunging into his own emotions tests viewer perceptions but ultimately results in him becoming what he was most obsessively pursuing.

Overwhelm the Sky with its black and white cinematography by Aaron Hollander and crawlingly impactful score by Costas Dafnis is superbly assembled aesthetically, with the woodland park settings feeling otherworldly and psychologically enveloping, while the city settings really make this a consuming film noir. As events intrigue and perplex us as much as they do Edgar, occasionally forcing you to step back and gather your thoughts, by the end, it really is all about the journey taken and Kremer makes this quite the thoughtful venture via his soulful direction. It really makes you think and sticks with you, echoing around the brain like the whispers integrated into the soundtrack at points during the film.

Hero leads the film confidently and his performance spans a range of feeling, from bewilderment to anger (one radio station interview especially captivates) and his relationship with the film’s roster of characters is fascinating to watch play out. Be it with his soulmate pen pal Faye (Alanna Blair), an increasingly distant relationship with fiancee in a great Nima Slone or clashes with the enigmatic Carmine Clithero (played wonderfully by Raul Delarosa).

The characters seem to wonder around this carnivorous world, finding their place in it (as does our lead) and their blossoming and fractured connections make for some great moments of dialogue exchange. Especially in the scene-stealingly tranquil sequences involving William Cully Allen as the homeless but liberating Ambrose.

One review cannot really capture the full extent of one’s feelings towards Alexander Hero, Aaron Hollander and Daniel Kremer’s screenplay because this is a film that sticks with you in a number of ways and whose layers are not always easily exposed but stimulating to navigate.

Overwhelm the Sky is a thought-provoking product indicative of a time that does not often poke its head back to surface in these ferocious days but when it does you should – like a movie whale in the cinematic sea – savour it for all its majesty, flaws and ambition, because one wonders when something like it will next rise to the surface.

Very well directed, compellingly harks back to bygone days of cinema, acting is excellent, leaves much to ponder.
Potentially risks losing some audiences with very deliberate pace that will prove divisive.
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