IIFF 2008 - QUENCH review

A chilly examination of decaying hope, Zack Parker’s Quench exemplifies the drive and spirit that embodies truly independent filmmaking. Shot for a song in the Midwest, the film infuses its bleak tale of a damaged prodigal’s return home with some much needed black humor and a resonant call for acceptance of its characters’ unconventional attitudes and beliefs. Brimming with the sort of honesty afforded only to pictures made on truly individual terms, the film sticks to its kinky guns throughout to consistently surprising returns.

Following a tragic accident, the details of which shift toward a much darker truth over time, college student Derik returns home to northern Indiana to re-connect with an old friend and hopefully find a little peace - that the friend, Jason, has forged a new way of life with a group of cutters (sanguinarians to be more precise – blood-drinkers) throws Derrick for a sizable loop. Wrestling with the changes his life continues to undergo, Derik finds a kindred spirit in sweet-natured Gina. She convinces him to join the same sect that’s consumed Jason, but the truth about Derik’s past simmers to the surface, threatening his newfound friend and way of life.

Quench is a hard film to pin down – it mixes genres and takes a slow, methodical approach to telling its story, withholding key points based on its characters’ personalities and not the demands of typical story structure. By nature of its subject matter the film will likely be lumped into the horror genre – while not a wholly inaccurate appraisal, that may give audiences the wrong idea of what to expect. Derik is never in any real peril from the sect – they’re not dangerous, just different. There’s a dark logic behind Derik’s inability to cotton to their way of life, but it has nothing to do with who they are or what they believe, and that’s refreshing. Parker’s script refuses to over-simplify things – there’s no good / evil, right / wrong, and despite the presence of black robes and blood drinking, no one gets a stake through the heart or dagger in the neck.

The piece plays a little rough around the edges at times, but considering the budget (under $40,000) what the production team managed to craft impresses all the same. The cinematography highlights placid Midwestern autumn hues while diving headlong into more baroque schemes as the film's tone grows darker. The minimal effects work, of the uncomfortable razor-on-bare-skin variety, is effective. Performances, from a mix of regional and national talent, are generally strong. Mia Moretti, as Gina, excels and has real chemistry with lead Bo Barrett. Time and again, Parker calls on his cast to perform a number of outré scenes and to their collective credit, they shy away from nothing.

Only recently out to festivals, Quench is in search of distribution and will no doubt find it. It’s a unique, deceptively complex character study with its fringes tipped in the blood of a number of influential, transgressive forays into body horror.

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