Road to The Well is a small neo-noir from writer/director Jon Cvak, and a deliciously mean-spirited thriller in the vein of the Coen Brothers’ debut film, Blood Simple. It doesn’t have the leanness or the near perfection of that film (and it isn’t simply some knock off), but despite its flaws, Road to The Well is a sure sign of new talent in the world of bare-bones indie filmmaking.
Frank (Laurence Fisher) is an office drone of a shapeless business who barely hides the disdain for his job beneath a facade of percolating frustration. His boss, Tom, wants him to take a project “up north” for the company despite the fact he wants nothing to do with the gig. His home life isn’t much better, especially when he finds his girlfriend with Tom in a compromising position at an office party.
One night, about the time Frank’s life is being upended, an old friend named Jack (Micah Parker) turns up and the two head out to the bar. Jack has decided to become a drifter in recent years, happy to bounce from place to place and live life as a nomad. It is free-spirited Jack who entices Frank to go talk to the girl sitting up at the bar. Nothing seems quite right, which is the modus operandi for the entire film.
Frank and the girl hit it off a little too quickly and before long wind up in the backseat of his car; without spoiling anything else, a crime is committed, and Frank and Jack must dispose of a body. That’s the simplest way to set up Road to The Well; there are plenty more details and developments which led these two men to this precarious situation, and the bulk of the film involves Frank and Jack finding a place to bury their corpse, running into old friends and making new, very strange, very dangerous ones along the way.
Cvak’s screenplay and direction is terrific in its ability to create mood, develop a sense of dread, and keep the performances and individual scenes consistently bizarre and uneasy. Even when all sense of logic sometimes abandons the film – certain sections feel disjointed or seem to be missing important pieces of information – the dedication to tone keeps the story from spinning out of control. Like when Frank and Jack visit another old friend, sneak their way onto some land he owns to hopefully bury the body, and have a wacko encounter with the nosy neighbor, a retired Army vet (Marshall R. Teague) intent on killing himself. The whole segment is completely detached from the central plot, but its also captivating and weird and a masterful bit of self-contained storytelling. It works, and works well, again blending elements of the Coen Brothers with a Lynchian sense of off kilter madness.
The revelation near the end can be seen from the beginning of the film, but the performances – especially from Fisher and Micah Parker, who channels a young and sinister Benicio del Toro at times – keep even the more obvious plot developments interesting. Although certain moments in the story are telegraphed, this screenplay is honest and sharp.
Road to The Well is a curious picture told with real confidence, an artistic eye for detail, and some impressive, painterly composition from cinematographer Tim Davis. The Coen influence is heavy, but there are (visually) elements of Shane Carruth’s uber low-budget thriller Primer here, and ample stylistic references to David Lynch seeping through the screen. It’s worth seeking out (it’s available on iTunes, Amazon, DVD, Vudu, Google Play, Xbox and Playstation), and it’s probably a good idea to keep the the name Jon Cvak in your memory banks.