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If what you crave is an hour and forty-something minutes of murder, mystery, romance, an opera-house and masked figures, then The Riot Act delivers.

The Riot Act
101 minutes
Hanover House / Mad Possum Pictures
Director / Writer: Devon Parks

Music / Score: Kevin Croxton

Stars: Lauren Sweetser, Brett Cullen, Connor Price, Micah Hauptman

 

For those that enjoy a little taste of mystery, a dash of the macabre, and the twists and turns of a good old-fashioned murder mystery, writer/director Devon Parks’ The Riot Act is right up your dark alley.

Without giving too much away, the heart of the story concerns revenge and the twisting of three key souls – all of which have been tainted by a murder that takes place  ten minutes into the film and causes ripple effects that take us to events that culminate two years later. There is a definite ‘bad guy’ in the person of the respected Dr. Willard Pearrow (played with dark intensity by Brett Cullen), who not only is the town’s doctor but also runs the local opera house. The good doctor insures that his only daughter (Allye, played by Lauren Sweetser) will never become tainted by a love affair with one of the actors by shooting and killing him as the two are trying to escape the town by train. The film picks up two years later, as we see that Allye is gone, Doctor Pearrow has become a haunted, suspicious figure, and the opera house is about to open to a new season featuring the greatest, new-level entertainment vaudeville show, fresh from the east coast. From this point on we’re treated to an Edgar Allen Poe-like story of maddening guilt, apparitions, and paranoia on the part of the doctor, similar to the feeling of The Tell-Tale Heart – at the same time, we see an upper-crust looking down on the ‘theater types’ that have come to town, somewhat reminiscent of Masque of the Red Death. Underneath it all is a tale of two revenge-fed conspiracies that ultimately lead to a scenario worthy of O’ Henry. To say much more would result in spoilers…

Taking place in the ‘toddler years’ of the nineteen hundreds, this period piece effectively evokes a time gone by – Travis Joiner, director of photography beautifully lights the authentic streets and interiors in a soft, shadowy glow and rich, warm colors. Shot wherever possible using authentic still-standing locales in Arkansas, we’re treated to distressed brick and peeling paint that puts a visceral touch to Parks’ story. The antithesis of the current crop of big CGI action films, The Riot Act is closer to a theatrical episode of The Twilight Zone. Kevin Croxton’s score is effectively dark and low-key and director Devon Parks keeps things moving along at a proper story-teller’s pace, artfully composing his frame but not letting his technique get in the way of the film’s overall mood.

Although there are certain themes and elements in the film (and, again – I’ll refrain from details to avoid spoilers) that we’ve seen before, The Riot Act manages to tell the story here well, with smart directing, a good cast, fine cinematography, and a solid score. I might actually question the film’s title - which, yes, was referenced in a line of dialog, but somehow sounds too removed from the tone and era of the film to evoke the style of what the audience is about to see. Here we have murder, apparitions, masks, an opera house, dimly-lit rooms, forbidden love …somehow The Riot Act doesn’t seem to be the title of choice for me. But, hey – That’s just me and I don’t have another title in mind.

 If what you crave is an hour and forty-something minutes of murder, mystery, romance, an opera-house and masked figures, then The Riot Act delivers.

Bert Saraco

 

In a Gothic setting infused with Eastern European folklore, this weird, adult fairy tale puts atmosphere over plot, with help from outstanding black-and-white cinematography (and moments of humour).

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