Small Town Murder Songs (Siff 2011)

Small Town Murder Songs [ Canada (English), 2010, 75 minutes ]
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Principal Cast: Peter Stormare, Aaron Poole, Martha Plimpton, Jill Hennessy
See it: June 3, 5, 12 at SIFF

Walter is the seemingly mild-mannered police chief of a small town in Ontario. He has struggled with a violent past, but it seems that he has moved on and has embraced his baptism into Christianity. His peaceful resolve is tested during a murder investigation of an unknown girl found on the outskirts of town. Although he is fueled by his determination to uncover the truth in the investigation, Walter finds himself repeatedly led more by his emotions than by his intellect. This trait has tarnished his relationships in the past and now threatens to consume him.

Overall Entertainment / Enjoyment: B-
The music in this film is integral to advancing the plot, and the powerful folk-rock score by Bruce Peninsula really emphasizes the underlying tension that feels like it might burst forth at any moment. This is in great contrast to the subtle emotions the actors actually express, and that combination was the strongest aspect of this movie. The supposed religious undertones suggested by living near a large Mennonite community were actually lost on me. I felt the Mennonites were only present enough to be an interesting oddity rather than really informing my understanding of the characters and their stories. I actually only know they were Mennonites from the written synopsis, and since I don’t know much about that religious community, it was difficult to understand how or why they fit into the story. I know the director wanted to leave his audience with questions to talk about after the credits rolled, but I think giving us just a little more story would have helped my understanding and informed my post-viewing conversation even better.

Film Festivalness: A-
This film relies heavily on the musical score to develop the back story for the characters and to illuminate their internal struggles, which is something that works very well for a film festival audience. It also leaves a lot of questions unanswered and situations unexplained, which, in this case, felt more unsatisfying rather than intriguing.

Siff Provided Synopsis
Ed Gass-Donnelly’s tightly composed film, which uses a murder investigation to explore whether a man’s faith can make sense of the insidious nature of violence, led to Variety naming him one of “10 Directors To Watch.” The film opens with a man being baptized as a born-again Christian. This is Walter Ruden (Peter Stormare), a well-meaning but flawed police chief mysteriously estranged from the Ontario Mennonite community in which he was raised. When a woman is found brutally raped and murdered, senior officers are called in to investigate. They turn up Walter’s ex-girlfriend Rita as a suspect. Convinced that Rita is lying to protect her new boyfriend, Walter is determined to get to the truth—no matter what it takes. Gass-Donnelly proves masterful at tone, pacing, and ambience. Bruce Peninsula’s powerful gothic soundtrack helps to create a sense of seething tension beneath a calm exterior, as do clouds ever-threatening to burst overhead, the flat landscape and its mysterious Mennonite inhabitants, and an eccentric cast who give powerful yet nuanced performances. An intriguing new voice in indie film, Gass-Donnelly brilliantly delivers an eerily quiet, controlled tale of crime and redemption. With Small Town Murder Songs, his capacity for commercial crossover seems assured.

Provided Film Synopsis

Movie Details

  • Directed By:

    • Ed Gass-Donnelly
  • Cast Members:

  • Countries:

    • Canada
  • Languages:

    • English
  • Genres: