Kaaterskill Falls

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Kaaterskill Falls

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Kaaterskill Falls

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The cast and crew of the low-budget psychodrama Kaaterskill Falls consists of six people: composer Steve Tibbetts, writer-director-editor-soundman Josh Apter, writer-director-cinematographer Peter Olsen, and actors Hilary Howard, Mitchell Riggs, and Anthony Leslie. Howard and Riggs play a well-off married couple who pick up hitchhiker Leslie on their way to a Catskills cabin for a weekend of hiking, nature photography, and attempted babymaking. When they find out that Leslie has no place to stay, they invite him to crash with them, but his rugged outdoorsiness drives a wedge between them, making Howard pine for her granola-girl past while casting subtle aspersions on Riggs' cell-phone-connected nature tourism. As the three bicker, posture, and make accusations about their respective lifestyle addictions, the dangers of the natural world and the threat of violence begin to encroach. Kaaterskill Falls was "inspired by" Roman Polanski's 1962 thriller Knife In The Water, in that Apter and Olsen adhered to Knife's rough outline, but had their cast improvise most of the dialogue. The film achieves the intended intensity and intimacy: When Riggs begins overreacting to perceived slights, his smirking spitefulness charges the film with a real sense of unease. But testy characters don't really make for enjoyable viewing, and as game as the actors are, their arguing sounds forced, and they can't improvise their way around the contrivance of the story, which forces Howard and Riggs to keep Leslie around longer than any reasonable people would. Apter also sabotages the film's tone with his editing style, which chops the conversations into jump-cut nuggets and spoils any sense of naturalistic flow. The all-improvised-dialogue stunt means less when the actors can't speak more than a few words at a time without a cut. In spite of the shrill conversations and sputtering rhythm, Kaaterskill Falls is undeniably creepy, particularly in its final half-hour, when the plot thickens and the broad strokes of culture clash begin to pay off. To get to that point, though, Apter and Olsen lay the groundwork with heavy hands, missing out on the spirit of playful malice that makes films like Polanski's (or more recent Euro-thrillers by Dominik Moll and François Ozon) both disturbing and fun. Kaaterskill loses so much sprightly mobility that even when the characters play a game of Jenga, the contest takes on a crushing symbolic weight.

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