Studio: Uncork'd Entertainment
Director: Eric Blue
Writer: Traci Carroll, Eric Blue
Producer: Matt Ackerman, Scott Salamon, Eric Blue
Stars: Rae Olivier, Jon Briddell, Eric Goins, Jason Burkey, RJ Shearer
An unseen predator stalks a group of hikers led off the Appalachian Trail by a secretive forest ranger.
Forest ranger Drake Jacobs hides a significant secret poised to haunt him in a very serious way. To keep things covered up for the time being, Drake quickly bluffs his way into becoming trail leader for a group of hikers who have signed up on a 10-day trek of sore feet and sweat-stained shirts in the scenic Appalachian Region of North Carolina and Georgia.
It’s a bumpy beginning for “Beacon Point” as characters are established with presentation problems undercutting creative credibility. Not only is schlubby Silicon Valley divorcee Dan a typical tech nerd whose wife left him for her yoga instructor, but recently reunited brothers Brian and “Cheese”* conspicuously wait until they’re already on the trail before bringing up their father’s funeral and the younger sibling’s pending plans for college. What did they talk about on the car ride up to the mountains? Surely there are more natural ways to detail personal backgrounds without resorting to conveniently timed conversations.
*It seems like a charming trait to concoct a cute nickname for a likable younger brother character. Perhaps screenwriters should give a second thought to such notions however, when a key moment later down the line requires another person to emotionally cry out “Cheese!” without the audience consciously realizing how silly it sounds in a serious scene.
Adding the fourth corner to Drake’s eclectic crew, leading lady Zoe also finds herself entering the picture in clunky fashion. While an unnecessary “boop… doop… boop” music score bouncily highlights obviously intentional humor, Zoe casually dissuades a pair of prospective homeowners from a potential purchase before abandoning her job as a frustrated realtor in a scene of hurried huffing and puffing straight from a sitcom.
High-heeled sass never appears again in Zoe’s vocabulary. This isn’t because of a transformative arc of self-discovery. This is because the film suddenly switches her to sociable and sympathetic at the act change, as if the script just as quickly forgot the personality built by Zoe’s initial introduction.
No, it’s not a promising opening for scaled-down sci-fi whose lo-fi aesthetic already undersizes it against heftier genre peer opponents. Yet once “Beacon Point” calms down on contrivances, it leaves dull exposition delivery behind by settling into an engaging storyline with a confident slow-burn stride.
It takes a while for something substantial to finally stick, though “Beacon Point” doesn’t feel sluggish. Unlike the ill-fated hiking quintet at the story’s center, the film rarely strays from a purposeful path. Even if that path’s destination is not immediately clear to the viewer, there is assuredness in the latter half’s plotting confirming filmmaker Eric Blue has a distinct vision in mind.
“Beacon Point” reaps immense benefits from its Appalachian Trail scenery. Outdoor locations look terrific, an expansive environment breathes beautifully, and the built-in production value of an authentic setting pulls off the illusion of having much grander scope than a low budget actually allows.
When a small film can secure a location such as this one, its top hat automatically advances two spaces. A similar script would never be as successful with a bland desert background or constricted industrial interior because limited landscapes don’t paint a coat of character on the film. If an indie production can take me somewhere I might not normally go, it’s far easier to be immersed in the onscreen world without becoming distracted by amateur edges poking through the seams.
Despite an absence of familiar faces or particularly original characterizations, the cast commits enough combined chemistry to keep the mystery ball in the air before gaps in tension can push it to the ground. Drake has fundamental flaws in his setup like everyone else. He is constantly on edge, giving guff to anyone voicing legitimate concerns that no paying tourist would ever put up with. But Jon Briddell is such a solid standout in the role, effusing a villainous Bruce Boxleitner quality of affability and antagonism suited to both his presence and Drake’s personality, that once again “Beacon Point” pushes past a problem by being passionate and professional in its approach.
Gradually, the hikers discover a predatory presence of unknown origin has its sights set on them. Not necessarily a fanged beast or ravenous monster, rather a force possibly related to Native American legend that has as much of a psychological effect on its prey as it does a physical one.
“Beacon Point” ultimately breaks into “X-Files”-style suspense sustained by a “what’s really going on?” mystery. That mystery is a perpetually dangled carrot whose ambiguous reveal will leave some stomachs still growling when the credits roll. However, those invested in the outcome will see more satisfaction in the groundwork laid to get there.
“Beacon Point” is graded on a microbudget movie curve requiring standards and expectations to be calibrated accordingly. As can happen when filmmakers with more exuberance than resources are involved, overzealousness on occasion gets in the way, like thunderous drums during a fight scene drawing attention to suddenly-accelerated music instead of to action on the screen.
Still, when evaluating this style of genre movie, I’d rather see too much effort even when it isn’t called for than see something fail because someone didn’t care at all. “Beacon Point” tries harder than it needs to in places, not enough in others, though that unevenness is leveled by an admirable independent spirit that makes the effort endearing while keeping the intrigue entertaining.
Review Score: 65