Not too long ago, someone who works at Oklahoma Gazette asked, “Does anyone in Oklahoma City make movies besides Mickey Reece?”
My answer was, “Of course,” supplemented with several caveats, one of which is that the local filmmaker generally makes more feature films in a year than my parents see within the same time frame. His first for 2014, Judges Creed, premieres with a one-and-done event Saturday night at Oklahoma Contemporary (formerly City Arts Center), where your five-spot admission also includes handcrafted Titswiggle Beer for your mouth and a live performance by Americana act Honeylark for your ears.
(Meanwhile, my mom and dad have seen both Philomena and Lone Survivor, so get on the stick, Mick.)
Following a title card of scripture (Judges 2:18, for those of you playing at home), Judges Creed introduces the Stanton family — Hershel (Jacob Snovel) and his wife, Dipesto (Valerie Sharp) — stricken by both poverty and grief. Having gambled away what little money the country couple had, Hershel is compelled by a desperate hunger to accept the left-field assignment of helping chaperone a “weary traveler” with a bum leg back home to Tarkington. This stranger (Nehemiah Alexander) promises Hershel gold in return for his troubles.
Sound too good to be true? Actually, the precious metal does exist … but the rocks happen to be stolen. And that’s where Hershel finds himself in a heap of trouble.
Like many of Reece’s films, Judges Creed defies the convenience of labels. By all appearances, it would seem to be a drama, yet it’s quite funny. But it’s certainly not a comedy, not with all that graphic violence.
Whatever it is, the Western-wrapped mix of pitch-black humor and palpable danger reminds one of the Coen brothers’ body of work, most notably O Brother, Where Art Thou?; No Country for Old Men; and their remake of True Grit. Hershel’s extended travels that make up Judges’ second half recall the journey found in Inside Llewyn Davis. Two things justify such a comparison: the dialogue and the characters. For the former, the script bears such wonderfully absurd, meme-ready lines as, “Potatoes discourage me.” For the latter, Hershel meets many an off-kilter individual along his crooked path, including a high-pitched weasel of a doctor (Reece), a band of literal freaks and, in a sandwiched-in sequence of the surreal, the Grim Reaper (Danny Marroquin). Instead of playing a round of chess with Death, Hershel suggests a hand of cards.
Some of these supporting players prove more vital to the overall proceedings than the two leads. Snovel seems intent on squinting his way to become Luke Wilson, while Sharp speaks all her lines
haltingly, as if in recovery from being kicked in the head by a horse.
Those who shine brightest are on screen the least.
Made on a mere $3,000 budget, Judges Creed gets
built-in production value from rural locations in OKC, Duncan, Pauls
Valley and Chandler. In many ways, the film is as shapeless as Reece and
company’s last project, the heavily improvised Queerbait, but the benefit in that is not always knowing what lies two steps ahead.