By Don Simpson | February 16, 2012
Director: John Henry Summerour
Writer: John Henry Summerour
Starring: Trevor Neuhoff, Kristin Rievley, Jace Flatt, Charles Patterson Jr., Laura Maynard, Sharon Huey, Chip Jones, Rhea Thurman, Larry Summerour
In the winter of 2002, over 300 dead bodies in various stages of decay were discovered on the land of the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Georgia. Writer-director John Henry Summerour’s Sahkanaga fictionalizes this story, telling it from the perspective of a teenage boy — Paul (Trevor Neuhoff) — who discovers the body of the recently deceased sheriff (Larry Summerour) deep in the woods.
It is not without narrative purpose that Paul’s father (Chip Jones) just so happens to run the local funeral home, and it is the same guy (Charles Patterson Jr.) his father pays to do the cremations who is dumping the bodies in the woods. Also, Paul has just recently become overwhelmingly smitten with the sheriff’s granddaughter, Lyla (Kristin Rievley). So Paul decides to keep the discovery of the sheriff’s body a secret, not knowing how his family, new girlfriend and the community will react to such news. The secret could very easily destroy his father’s funeral home, ruin his chances with Lyla, and send the tight-knit religious community that surrounds him into utter turmoil. Of course the horrible secret eventually becomes way too much of a burden for a teenager to bear, so Paul finds an anonymous way to reveal the truth…but how will everyone react to this grim news?
Sahkanaga was filmed on location in Walker County, GA, with a cast of non-professional actors, some of whom had direct connections to the real-life scandal. For the most part, the acting is quite spot-on and nicely accented by gritty, realistic emotions. It is worth specifically pointing out that Kristin Rievley and Trevor Neuhoff are fantastic — both of them definitely have promising careers as actors ahead of them.
Damian Ward’s cinematography is breathtakingly gorgeous. It certainly helps that Walker County is so goddamn photographic, but even the interior scenes are perfectly lit and framed. I might as well also bring up that the camera totally adores Rievley and Neuhoff — it literally makes them glow with radiance.
First and foremost, I love the role that religion — specifically Christianity — plays in Sahkanaga. It would be difficult to shoot a film set in Walker County that does not acknowledge the prevalence of Christianity; but I find it most intriguing that Summerour does not embrace or condemn religion. Even the Christian television host, Lovey (Sharon Huey), is portrayed without any bias whatsoever. One might say that religion is just another character in Sahkanaga; and, as with the human actors, it plays its role with the utmost subtlety.
(Don’t forget to check out all of the other films we previewed for the SF IndieFest 2012.)