With their feature debut directorial effort, husband and wife filmmaking team Pi Ware and Susan Kraker have delivered an interesting psychological drama that, although made on a microscopic budget, is definitely worth a watch.
Hilary (Mary Thornton) and Soledad (Ronne Orenna) are friends who live at a commune out in the deserts surrounding Phoenix, Arizona. When the film beings, the pair are planning to move to Flagstaff where Hillary will work as an agent for Soledad, who hopes to make it as an artist. They pack their bags and get ready for the trip only to find that their truck isn't working. Hillary decides that the pair can borrow her brother Louis' (Patrick Belton) car. They head over to his apartment, which is a total disaster area, just as he's about to kill himself.
Hillary obviously changes her travel plans to try and take care of her brother and Soledad stays along to help. As the two girls try and do the right thing, the situation starts to get out of hand as the three characters get tied up in a power struggle involving manipulation, lies, substance abuse and sex.
It's rare that a micro-budget feature, especially one that is almost completely dialogue based, can hold your attention as well as Solitude does. Credit has to go to the three main leads, all of whom turn in believable performances and deliver the well written dialogue with a very natural flow and tone. As the tension starts to mount in the movie, the performances also begin to swell to the point where, during the last half hour or so of the picture, things have really started to boil nicely.
That said, as good as the three performances are, the picture is far from perfect. The low budget shines through in the visuals and while the cinematography is perfectly competent, it isn't particularly remarkable. The same comment applies to the lighting and design work for the film as well - by low budget standards it is fine, but it doesn't stand out in any way. There are also some editorial quirks in the picture, most of which relate to the film's pacing. Parts of the picture are a bit too drawn out and these parts cause the film to lag in spots.
The strengths of this film lie almost completely in the script, the characters and the performances. While at times it might feel more like we're watching a stage play than a movie, Thornton, Orenna and Belton all do what they can to make these characters their own. The material gets fairly emotional and intense in spots and the three performers delve into things head first with admirable results. Thornton in particular garners a fair bit of pathos from us during the first part of the picture, although with the twists and turns that take place in the later half of the movie, some of it may be unwarranted - but that's all part of the hook, isn't it? Solitude is rather unconventional in its execution and in its approach but the story is layered enough and interesting enough that it's hard not to relate to some of the characters at least some of the time. This grounding of the film makes it easy to overlook some of its problems and enjoy this twisted character drama for what it is.
The film's low budget is obvious in the 1.33.1 fullframe transfer, as the picture really doesn't look so hot. It's watchable enough, particularly when you take into account the film's origins, but it's far from great. The dark scenes are a little too dark and at times the image is a bit on the muddy side and detail gets lost in the shadows. That said, color reproduction is okay and there aren't any glaring problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement to complain about. The picture is serviceable, it's just not great.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is decent even if the levels fluctuate a little bit in a couple of scenes. There isn't much in the way of channel separation but on the plus side you won't have any trouble following the performers or understanding what's being said at any given time.
The biggest and best of the supplements on this release is a running commentary track courtesy of co-writer/co-director team, Pi Ware and Susan Kraker. The duo, who are married in real life, do a surprisingly good job of taking us through the history of the production. As is often times the case with low budget pictures, in many ways the history of the movie is more interesting than the movie itself and if you have an interest in low budget filmmaking, you'll probably enjoy this informative talk. They cover pre and post production issues, locations, casting, effects and writing all in quite a bit of detail and considering that these two are the ones who really spearheaded the film from start to finish, they know their stuff. Regardless of whether or not you enjoyed the film, this commentary is very definitely worth checking out.
Aside from that we get a brief four-minute behind the scenes featurette entitled The Story Of Solitude, a handful of inconsequential deleted and extended scenes, a theatrical trailer for the feature and trailers for a few other, unrelated DVD releases. Menus and chapter selection are also included.
A thought provoking and very well acted and well written drama, Solitude is a bit too long and a little too stagey but manages to overcome its flaws and proves to be an interesting and very human character study. Indican's DVD isn't going to blow you away with its presentation but the commentary is a welcome extra and the film is definitely worth a look.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.