Vancouver International Film Festival runs from September 28 – October 13, 2017. Screening films from more than 70 countries on nine screens, VIFF’s program includes the pick of the world’s top film fests and many undiscovered gems. 

Overview: A widow and her toddler head to a beach house to get away and come to terms with death. Cut Off Tail; Not Rated; 99 minutes.

Why: It’s hard to say immediately where The Crescent is going. Initially we meet Beth (Danika Vandersteen), the young widow and single mother who’s lost her husband in an accident. She’s empty and numb and left to care for their toddler, Lowen (Woodrow Graves, the director’s son). This is horrific enough, being a grieving single parent and having to go through the motions. When Beth decides to take her son to her mom’s old house by the sea, it seems we’ll be treated to an eventual breakdown at having to bear the load.

If this was the case, it could have been a meaningful look at the weight of parenthood and death. At times it is, but it wanders in and out of any meaningful theme and never really gets down to the ugliest parts of what it’s trying to be. Beth is constantly patient, usually calm, floating around the bizarre house and trying to keep away from the neighbours. The film is shot, according to director Seth A. Smith, like a nature documentary trying to capture natural magical moments between mother and son.

Sorry: This is cute, for awhile. But just like any toddler, Lowen is moody and prone to tantrums, and his charming babbling gets old quick. This is meant to be a horror story from the perspective of a child, but it only succeeds sometimes. The Crescent‘s tensest moments lie in dangerous toddler situations around the house. Lowen rides his tricycle too close to the stairs, touches dangerous objects, and keeps trying to wander into the ocean with the encouragement of a mildly creepy neighbour. When mom disappears and he’s left to his own devices wandering around the home for several days it’s heartbreaking but goes on much too long to have much impact.

Visuals: The house itself is iconic and haunting, and it feels like it has a presence of its own that’s sorely underused. Beth is an artist, specifically in regards to paper marbling, and shots of her creating her work are psychedelic and strangely hypnotic. These types of moments are reflected in artistic shots of the churning, twisting sea, and without getting into spoilers a full-body marbling turns out to be a uniquely frightening image. Experimental framing and music—heavy sampling of non-linear sound and synthesizer—try to reach arthouse quality but never really get beyond being a nuisance. Add in a legitimate crab man and some ghosts and some long-time-coming reveals and it just becomes a bad stew, cleaning everything out of the fridge to use it all up. In the end, it doesn’t matter what happens or what secrets are revealed. It all tastes the same.

Overall: The Crescent relies on trippy visuals and startling sound effects to pull its meandering story together like a PCP-inspired collage. Unfortunately this is its only real strength as the writing and wooden cast weighs it down like a cement block around the neck on a long, slow stroll to the bottom of the sea.

Grade: D+

Featured Image: Cut Off Tail