If you’ve been to a blockbuster movie some time in the last decade, you know dark is very in. Just in the last few years we’ve seen Batman portrayed as an angry manic-depressive driven more for vengeance than justice, Superman as an itinerant outsider and (gasp) a killer. Even the last few films of the Harry Potter franchise – based on a twee but beloved kids’ story – was praised for how morally muddy and scary it became.
Someone told ”A Single Shot” director David M Rosenthal about black being so in vogue and he misunderstood – it’s got to the movie with the darkest, murkiest picture this year. It certainly sets a mood, the perpetually rainy and dreary backwoods near Vancouver (standing in for what seems to be the Pacific Northwest of the US) are evocative. It just gets a bit too much when every frame is so visually dull. Even the interiors are drab and colourless, dull lighting throwing only huddled corners of light in rooms that look they were fitted out in 1963.
There’s nothing in the story to suggest A Single Shot isn’t set in the present, but throw in a bunch of the most unintelligible hillbillies since Deliverance and you might start to think you’re watching a Jimmy Cagney crime drama set in the 1940s.
Although ‘thriller’ is really too strong a word. Along with the rest of the cast, Sam Rockwell as hero John Moon (even his name makes him sound like a prohibition-era bootlegger) is so emotionless, his dialogue such a jumbled, drunken drawl of nonsense that as well as not being able to see what’s going on half the time you can’t hear it either.
The story starts with Moon going off early one morning to hunt. He follows a sound in the miserable, sodden forest around him, fires, and then goes into the trees to find a young woman dying of the gunshot he’s just inflicted.
Why he carries her body off to a local rubbish dump and stuffs it into a shipping container to hide isn’t very clear, and why he goes into a trailer on the site and finds a box full of money isn’t either. But the crims who put it there – and who the girl is connected to – want it back and are soon on Moon’s trail. At the same time, he’s trying to convince his estranged wife to move back in with him, enjoys a night in the rain with two local girls and his equally mumbling friend Simon (Jeffrey Wright), and when the violence comes to his doorstep in this thriller, it’s neither violent nor thrilling.
It might have been a better movie if the story hadn’t been buried under such an excess of atmosphere, darkness, impenetrable characterisations and incomprehensible dialogue. In this form, ”A Single Shot” is like bobbing for an apple in a 44-gallon drum full of molasses.