Be Sure to Stay Away from THE QUARRY

It’s just not safe down there.

Having been born and raised in South Texas, I usually find myself making the five hour drive back home from Austin on occasion for the usual birthday or holiday. Along the way I pass the usual array of border towns; small communities which the world has forgotten about, but with people still very much living live to the fullest; or whatever that looks like in a town like that. I stop only once to treat myself to a chocolate dipped cone at the Dairy Queen of a sleepy little town known as Three Rivers. Every time I stand against my car in the parking lot, my mind always ponders the mysteries a town like Three Rivers holds and what sort of human drama actually transpires in those small towns that so easily dismissed. The new indie title The Quarry attempts to bring that notion to life with a story that captures the look of such a town, but, sadly, very little else.

In The Quarry, a man on the run (Shea Whigham) is picked up by a preacher named David Martin (Bruno Bichir), who is on his way to a small, dying border town in order to head its local church. A short rest at a quarry not far from the town results in a scuffle between the two which ends up with the preacher dead. Acting on impulse, the man decides to take his place and arrives in the small town claiming to be David Martin. However, a local woman (Catalina Sandina Morena), the town’s sheriff (Michael Shannon) and a theft all threaten to blow David’s cover.

The strongest element plaguing The Quarry is a bare bones plot which takes forever to get anywhere. It feels like more effort was put into my half-baked synopsis than into the actual script itself. After a promising start which does indeed contain a kind of mystery worth generating interest in, the wheels stop turning. In fact, after David arrives in the small town he intends to trick into believing he’s actually the man he’s killed, almost everything, from suspense to story structure, ceases. The audience is instead treated to one lifeless moment after another which contains David behaving nervous and awkward amongst the melancholy town he’s come to infiltrate. Everything about The Quarry from a storytelling point of view is slow and plodding to no end, making for one of the longest hour and 38 minutes spent in some recent memory. Not helping at all is the fact that no one has bothered to paint the people in the film with any kind of life. Instead, the movie settles for characters which are sketchy at best and at least thankfully don’t conform to too many stereotypes. However one suspects this is only due to the sole possibility that the makers of The Quarry were too lazy to even make that kind of minimal effort.

The only bright spot in The Quarry comes from what may perhaps be its darkest element. From the start of the film, it’s hard to ignore the truly authentic sense of place that has been so lovingly invested in. The world that is built here perfectly captures the look and feel of the kind of small border town you would indeed drive past on your way back home. In this particular one, its people are like ghosts who are going through the motions with only as much effort as necessary, resigning to themselves that this is all life is and all it is ever going to be. Watching all of the side characters is especially interesting in the way they move and interact with each other. This is definitely true with the ones who attend David’s embarrassing masses. You get the sense and feeling that for each of them, all they have left in this world is faith or, in some cases, their disappointment with it and with themselves.It may seem like a dire backdrop for an even more dire story, but with a courthouse which is only in operation on a monthly basis and a church which has mismatched chairs instead of pews, the setting is perfect for the kind of heavy suspenseful drama The Quarry convinced itself it was.

What can you say about actors with proven talents trapped in a bad movie? Well, not much as it turns out in this case. Everyone knows their marks, their lines and their light, but not their actual characters for the simple fact that they were never really given any. After spending years in side roles, Whigham is wasted at every turn in what should have been his turn to shine which a role of true conflict, while the eternally underused (but always spellbinding) Moreno remains just that. Even the dull emptiness of The Quarry was powerful enough to make Shannon (one of the most compelling actors around) appear stiff, boring and not entirely present.

I’m not totally sure what The Quarry was aiming to be. Other than saying what it ended up being (which I’ve more than done), I can only tell you what I could have been. This film had the makings of a fantastic indie noir with its setup, premise and various characters. In a sense, it is that, but in name only. The ingredients were here for the film to be something out of the world of Mike Figgis, especially where its desperate, uneasy protagonist is concerned. However the filmmakers get so caught up in making sure that their themes of faith and redemption are pointed to so relentlessly, that they forget to give much color or life to anything or anyone else. While the small border town world of The Quarry may be deceptively rich with involving stories to tell, this certainly is not one of them.

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