Union Bridge is a slow-burn that unfortunately can’t quite find it’s pay-off but works incredibly well as a meditation on location and time.
Synopsis: After burning out in the city, Will Shipe is summoned back home where he uncovers dark truths about his family and the town he grew up in.
Union Bridge is horror with a small ‘h’. That isn’t a criticism, just that rather than going into too much horror territory it uses the trappings of horror (like musical cues) in a way to enhance the eerieness of the situation. It never quite lets loose with something more evocative or disruptive meaning that despite a few moments where the weird factor is turned up, it never quite moves up the gears enough, occasionally leaving it to feel flat.
As a story of a man returning to find out the secrets of his and his ancestor’s pasts, I’m not sure that it manages to be wholly successful. The central concern of Nick (a good performance by Alex Breaux) becoming obsessed with digging in the area never quite reaches a peak within the expected time. Add to this the fact that protagonist Will Shipe (Scott Friend) is a quieter, less action-focused man and you have a film with relatively little momentum. This lack of momentum is furthered by scenes being elongated. Sometimes this is successful, allowing the viewer to soak in the weight of a situation, but can occasionally feel like drawing out the runtime and celebrating the photography without other purposes.
Of course, it is possible to read the film differently, as I found myself doing throughout the runtime. Instead of focusing on Will’s journey and particular situation with the vague comings and goings that it represents, it is possible to view Union Bridge as a film with wider thoughts about history and secrets buried in the land. Countless untold histories have yet to be unearthed with discoveries made much later. Still, what we think we know about the past informs our present and allows us to plan for our futures. Union Bridge‘s central family is just a way to talk about this much bigger, meatier but also much more esoteric idea.
The location is used to great effect here and overwhelms the characters within it. Postcard-perfect landscapes and cleanly-painted storefronts are beautifully photographed but the landscapes always retain a sense of being uncontrollable and insurmountable by humans. Nick’s compulsion to dig for secrets is hinted at being supernaturally driven, and there are moments where this idea of a psychic link between human and land is more palpable. The Civil War flashbacks, adding little to Will’s own story, can be seen as a further reminder of the cyclical violence and greed present across history and that humans are somewhat doomed to follow the same patterns and make the same mistakes.
Slightly tricky to review this, as while there are some very striking and fascinating themes, the central narrative and characters don’t work quite well enough even though the performances are undoubtedly good. However, the mood of the film is perfectly-pitched and despite some of those drawn-out scenes I never found myself looking at the clock. The photography is beautiful and the film works on a thematic level for me, even if the central story doesn’t quite grip.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Union Bridge is available from Breaking Glass Pictures.