By Don Simpson | January 27, 2016
Director: Nathan Williams
Writers: Nathan Williams, Matthew Williams
Starring: Carol Roscoe, Conner Marx, Mark Carr, Paul Budraitis
Nathan Williams’ If There’s a Hell Below is a clever narrative exercise that takes place largely in SUVs driving around the rural back roads of the American Midwest. The opening few minutes of the film features nothing but vehicle noises. By the time the first words of dialogue are uttered, they are as surprising for the audience as they are for the other character in the SUV. That opening moment of dialogue foreshadows the way that Nathan Williams and Matthew Williams’ minimalist screenplay will purposefully limit the speech of the characters for the remainder of the film. More importantly, they present us with character types who logically will not be forthcoming with information, leaving us with very little explanation about what is happening on screen.
Debra (Carol Roscoe) tracks down Abe (Conner Marx), an ambitious young journalist, to leak some information to him; however, the two characters need to establish some semblance of trust before they can proceed with the interview. Abe needs to believe that Debra is not some paranoid conspiracy theorist, while Debra needs to have faith that Abe will not print anything that could possibly link her to being a source for the story. Both characters are suspicious of each other. It certainly does not help matters that Debra does not feel comfortable being interviewed anywhere and is suspicious of every vehicle she sees, because she is in constant fear that her life is in danger.
We are left spending a majority of If There’s a Hell Below wondering if we are ever going to find out Debra’s secrets. As the running time progresses, the game that Nathan Williams and Matthew Williams play with their audience will either build tension or frustration. Regardless, this is undeniably a novel way to tell (or, not tell) a story, one that will certainly test the audience’s patience. (And, just to clarify, testing the audience’s patience is not such a bad thing.)