Ballast (2008) – 3.5/5

A happy little movie about suicide, poverty, and violence, all set in the charming backdrop of a swamp filled, ghetto infested community of misery and death from which there is no escape. Ah, how I love low-budget independent films. I had real high spirits after watching this one. Oh yeah.

The film is beautifully shot, and better and more interesting than other such films like Winter’s Bone and Frozen River, just to name a few. But it ultimately also suffers from a lot of the same problems those films do, such as unnecessarily slow pacing, long stretches of silence, cold, distant characters, extremely depressing subject matter, and, most grievously, downright boring moments.

Is there some rule among independent low-budget filmmakers where, if they want to be accepted by critics, everything has to be really serious, really oppressive, and really gosh darn bleak? Even the cinematography is painted in these depressing bluish hues that get somewhat tiring after the first hour. Man. Throw some yellow or red in there or something, anything to break the suicide inducing monotony of it all.

Despite this, it was mostly engaging, mostly due to the uniqueness of the subject and the utter unpredictability of the plot. Still, I could have used less moments of empty silence, of characters just doing nothing or not reacting in any kind of emotional way to anything that was going on, unless it was yelling at someone else in anger, which they do here in spades. And would it have killed any of them to smile, even once? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where not a single character in it so much as cracks a smile, which is odd cause there is some humor in this here and there.

Overall, hmm, a decent movie. Not for everyone, as it is slow by conventional standards, and depressing, and doesn’t star anyone of any note. The acting is hit and miss, but never terrible. You don’t get a good feel for any of the characters, but I think this is more a direction problem/intention than anything the actors did. It is very well shot, though, and does introduce you to a world not normally explored in film, so it has that going for it. Still, if stuff like this doesn’t normally appeal to you, this probably won’t either.

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