Directed by John Henry Summerour
Boys will be boys in this film's small town: they make crank calls; they drink cans of beer; they take their little sisters' kittens, drive them way out into the woods, and let them go. But in those woods Paul (Trevor Neuhoff) discovers something far more disturbing than any of his pubescent hijinx: hundreds of scattered decomposing corpses. Sahkanaga is based on 2002's notorious case of the Tri-State Crematory, the owner of which, for reasons unknown, buried, stored or dumped 339 bodies on his property in rural Georgia instead of cremating them. Writer-director Summerour, who grew up nearby but now lives in Long Island City, isn't interested in the perpetrator's psychology; he's interested in the town's: he shot the movie in the community shaken by the real-life case, using local nonprofessional actors, many of whom had been personally affected.
The film is dedicated to these real townspeople, even though as a whole they don't come off particularly well. Those unburied bodies function as symbols of the return of the repressed, exposing and provoking the town's dark side: revelations of sexual abuse, expressions of racism, and the manifestation of mean-spiritedness. (As the hero says, God doesn't have to punish us—we punish ourselves.) In contrast, cinematographer Damian Ward revels in the beauty of the Georgian landscape: its verdant forests, pacific creeks, sunlit fields, rustic train tracks, foggy cemeteries. His eye for composition lends dignity and grace to the place, which the story mostly doesn't. Though in fairness the road to peace and forgiveness is a long one, and ultimately it's a road the townspeople are able to start on. You get a sense that this is what Summerour admires about them—that they at least have the potential to be as beautiful as the landscapes within which they live.
Opens December 7 at reRun