It’s the most famous rule in dramatic writing: if someone brandishes their pistol in act one, somebody’s got to shoot it (preferably in someone else’s general direction) by the end of act two. Only, other than Chekhov and all those books on how to be a screenwriter you see at Goodwill, who says? How come the gun David (Clayne Crawford) has thrust toward his sleeping wife Nikki (Sepideh Moafi) and some guy from her law office (Chris Coy) in the first minute of the movie has to go off at all? How about, in 4:3 format and a patient array of long takes, we get semi-rural Utah, its yawning streets and vacant lots and looming snow-capped Pahvant mountains, into the frame a little first, then worry about the gun. Let’s check back in about the gun when we see how hard David is trying to make Nikki’s need for flexibility in their marriage not feel like death, and when Nikki has finished weighing her responsibilities against her boredom. Gun movies with no gunslinger, or rather an inept and conflicted one: this is the mold we are working in, recalling films like Blue Ruin (2013) and parts of No Country For Old Men (2007) or Shotgun Stories (2007).
Drama is one thing, vistas are another. And there are inward vistas to counter the outward ones, values and priorities that can crumble as the snowy mountains shadow them from an eternal past. All does not hang on the report of a firearm. Until, suddenly it does. From such simple beginnings—an angry man, his gun, a sleeping wife, and another man—through to all the complexities life can throw at a family, then back to the primal struggles anew, director Robert Machoian’s first solo feature achieves technically what it sets about to portray emotionally, a rare feat.