“The Big Bend” (San Diego International Film Festival)

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Writer/Director Brett Wagner transforms Big Bend National Park into a living, breathing character in the gripping drama, The big turn. The feeling of disconnection from the world that the landscape provides is the perfect backdrop for the story of two couples forced to deal with problems within their marriage.

Cory of New Jersey (Jason Butler Harner, ozark) and Melanie Price (Virginia Kull, NOS4A2), accompanied by their two young daughters, travel to West Texas to reconnect with old friends. The Talbotts live in Terlingua, Texas, on the outskirts of Big Bend National Park, but it might as well be on the moon; the area seems foreign to what prices are used to. It’s undeniably beautiful, but there are threats nearby (including carnivores and snakes) that the Price children have never experienced before.

However, these outside threats are not primarily on the minds of Cory and Melanie or Mac (David Sullivan, Sharp objects) and Georgia Talbott (Erica Ash, Contempt). There are unsaid issues in both marriages, but this short vacation is meant as a way to put them aside for a little while to relax and enjoy good company.

Life comes at you hard and fast, and it’s important to savor the quieter moments. But it is impossible to suppress worries and concerns for a long time. Even not sharing a few days with close friends can put off potentially life-changing decisions, especially for Georgia Talbott.

The undercurrent of anxiety that permeates the vacation getaway turns into full-fledged terror when the Price’s youngest daughter, Fiona (Delilah Wagner), goes missing while on a hike. The panic over her whereabouts temporarily pushes aside all other trouble, and everyone (including the local police) is on deck to locate the girl before it’s too late.

Add to that the very real danger of an escaped convict in the area, and frantic doesn’t begin to describe what Cory and Melanie go through as they do everything they can to find their baby girl.

The adults are great, but it’s young Delilah Wagner as Fiona and Nick Masciangelo as Karl the Convict who share the most interesting scenes. There’s a weirdly honest vibe between the old man and the lost child that’s genuinely engaging. That’s not to say the rest of the cast isn’t top-notch; it’s just that there’s something truly fascinating about Fiona and Karl’s short but impactful relationship.

There’s a lot to unpack in Brett Wagner The big turn. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, Wagner throws a grenade and shatters your expectations. The Talbotts and Price are relatable, and the situations the two families find themselves in feel neither contrived nor forced – even in the film’s most intense and unexpected moments.

GRADE: B+

The big turn screened during the 2022 San Diego International Film Festival held October 19-23. For more information on SDIFF, visit the official festival website.

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