A highlight for Top 10 Films at 2016’s Raindance film festival, Dusky Paradise is a sweet and realistic portrayal of finding a way back into life. Lyndon Wells reviews…
This film was my personal favourite at Raindance. It follows Jacob (Kes Baxter), a young man with a truly apathetic attitude, living in his deceased parents’ holiday home with their turtle. He seems to have forgotten how to interact with other living things especially his newly adopted turtle. Through initially forced interactions with his new neighbour Matteo (Martin Umbach) and local girl Zoe (Charlotte Krenz) Jacob starts the process of rebuilding himself.
The lead Kes Baxter perfected his instructions from first time director Gregory Kirchhoff, to “act less” with his face. This creates many humorous moments as Jacob’s apathy is imposed on social interactions. Baxter also masters the awkward lanky posture of the character, especially when he slips into the pool and attempts to dance. When he does finally crack to reveal some emotions it is an intimate and deftly executed moment.
The first person to start eroding at Jacob’s emotional barrier is the 27-percent-er Martin Umbach. A 27-percent-er is a character actor/actress that automatically elevates any film they are in by at least 27%. For his character here, Matteo has an emotional honesty that inevitably rubs off on Jacob. Matteo’s best scene is his dancing at the poolside. The sound design of the film is great, especially here as the background music is carefully crafted into a triumphant crescendo. Matteo is lost in his movement and his dancing even brings a smile to Jacob’s face.
Zoe (Charlotte Krenz) is essential, but the most underserved of the main trio. She challenges Jacob’s approach to life and her arc teases with conventional plot mechanisms, but then consistently produces a surprise conclusion. Writer-director Kirchhoff has produced a film a seasoned filmmaker would be proud of. This is a character study where the central trio gravitate around the vibrant single setting.
The title “Dusky Paradise” is an oxymoron much like the main character and the film itself. It’s ultimately a feelgood affair that satisfyingly creates an atmosphere of goodwill towards the film from the audience. Punctuated by the moments without dialogue that are often more evocative, and at times very funny, this comedy-drama is a sweet and realistic portrayal of finding a way back into life.