By Gary Murray
Starring Nichole Leigh Jones, G. Russell Reynolds and Larry Jack Dotson
Written and directed by David Jetre
Running time 1 hr 43 min
MPAA Rating—Not Rated (would be a PG)
Selig Film Rating—Rental
I have a certain respect for the independent film. It takes a lot of guts to believe in a project so much to generate the finances, find and hire a cast and crew, make the movie, go into post production and try to find a distributor all without any guarantee that anyone will ever see it.
With the evolution of cameras and editing equipment, it has become much more cost effective for the production of independent cinema. What was once a major outlay of cash can now be done for a fraction of what it would cost a decade ago. Digital can be of a quality that rivals 35mm. The latest disc received on a direct to DVD format is the revisionist western Shroud.
The story is of a young Holland woman Victoria (Nichole Leigh Jones) and her voyage to the American West in the late 1800s. She is an educated lady who possesses many skills, both obvious and hidden. On receiving a letter from her doctor husband, she and her kid brother take out to find the man.
Eventually they end up in Shroud, a small town that has no children. The locals try and push Victoria to continue her journey on to the West Coast but she senses that something is amiss with the town. The men of the town all seem to be hiding something and are terrified by the mysterious.
Victoria takes a room in the saloon and begins to investigate the disappearance of the doctor, events become stranger. Eventually, she befriends a man who used to be the school teacher. He lets her know about a local legend of a creature that devours children. Victoria believes it is a ruse to hide a bigger plan. She feels that Mayor Undercroft (G. Russell Reynolds) has something to do with everything that is going on in the town.
It all builds to a confrontation between Victoria and the more evil aspects of the townspeople. It involves a 300 year-old Apache legend-curse, hiding Confederate soldiers and the legend of a dead Spanish Conquistador. The film twists to a supernatural ending and a surprise final scene that comes so far out of left field that it is never expected.
The film looks beautiful, with sweeping vistas and detailed locations. According to the press notes, Shroud was shot in the Western town owned by Willie Nelson and in various locations across Texas. For a small independent production, the backgrounds and sets are on par with anything that Hollywood has put out. It is a testament to the ingenuity of the producers and the skills of Texas cinema craftsmen.
Many of the secondary performers are obviously not professional actors and their comfort level in front of the camera is more than a bit painful. The production would have been better off to have cast some more professional thespians in the minor roles. A few performances are just painful to watch.
As the lead of Victoria, Nicole Leigh Jones is a stunning woman who just draws one into every scene she plays. At times she comes off as a bit aloof but at the same time curious, caring and capable. She is much better in the scenes with the young boy than with the action chunks that pepper the production. It is not that believable when she spins an ax or fights men.
The best single performance is by G. Russell Reynolds as Mayor Undercroft. He is our sinister mayor of the town of Shroud. He uses slight gestures to convey terror. It is a subtle reading that works on different levels. Definitely, he is the right actor for the role.
The film is written and directed by David Jetre who does a competent job at best. Some of his actions scenes are just not that well blocked and they tend to clunk along. There is so much story that more than once David gets bogged down in the telling of his tale. A simpler and shorter story would have been a boon to the production. He is much better with the framing of his shots than the execution of action. To put it simply, Shroud looks better than it plays.
The DVD has very few bonus features. It consists of a slide show of the production with some behind the scenes location footage. I would have preferred to know more about how the film-makers were able to create this world and the execution of the production. Even cast and crew bios would have been helpful.
Lastly, perhaps the biggest problem I had with Shroud was actually getting it to play on my machines. I have three different DVD players and the film would not load on two of them. On the third one, it skipped and jumped in a strange manner. I finally gave up and took it to a friend’s house where we watched it on his state-of-the-art system. Going back home, I tried it again on the one machine and it ran perfectly. This may be a faulty disc because I haven’t had these irritations with other discs.