GFF19: The Standoff at Sparrow Creek
Lean and moody crime thriller set in an isolated militia bunker
Tick tick tick tick tick.
The timer on the floodlights outside the lumber yard/militia base ticks away the seconds before darkness falls again. Pitch black is the only way this ends.
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek begins with officer turned hermit Gannon (James Badge Dale) hunting alone in the wilderness before returning to the solitude of his trailer. He hears gunfire in the distance and turns to his police scanner: shots fired at a police funeral. His group convene immediately at their headquarters and discover that their weapon stash is light. The shooter was one of them. They kill their phones and lock the doors. No-one in, no-one out until the culprit is identified.
The whole movie takes place in the early hours of the morning, before the sun has risen. The dark is a constant, colonising presence: creeping in from every corner, threatening to consume the action completely at any moment. The sound design highlights the quiet whisper of the wind, the creak of the building, the slight shuffle of feet: barely audible noises which only serve to emphasise the silence. The movie begins feeling quiet, dark, cold and isolated, and it lets you know from the beginning that this is how it will remain.
Gannon is tasked with interrogating each man in turn to try to uncover which of them harbours enough rage to open fire on the world. The quiet, isolated kid? The lumbering white supremacist? The genial, slow-moving old man?
With each twist in its plot the film increases the tension, pulling it tighter around any remnant sense of humanity, any hope for a hopeful outcome. Along the way The Standoff at Sparrow Creek deploys a few cheaper tricks and has to skip over the odd hole in its logic, but these slips do little to detract from the overpowering atmosphere of the film, its irresistible pull towards the darkness, and the deeper darkness beyond it.
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek had its UK premiere at Glasgow Film Festival