“THE BYGONE” is a subtly tense, dramatic mystery written and directed by Graham and Parker Phillips. The story centers on a young rancher that forms an affinity for a Lakota girl from a nearby reservation. When she disappears, this rancher will stop at nothing to find her and while doing so he unearths information that will change his life forever.
I think the key to a successful mystery is the weaving of story layers. How the elements of the story and characters progress is an important balance to keep the viewer intrigued and curious to where things will end up. This film did a great job of continually progressing the story and developing the characters with a balance that made the two dynamics work together as one fluid narrative. The pacing is methodical and while it may drag a slight bit in some sections, for the most part the run-time was used wisely. Resulting in an immersive film that pulls you out onto the plains and into the lives of these characters.
It thrives on its raw tone. The lack of studio polish gives this film an intimate feel that makes the characters come off as realistic people. The situations they go through never feel embellished for the sake of theatrics, the characters never become bigger than themselves. And this gritty vibe makes it much more engaging. The characters through the performances are humanized, they feel relatable, and their personality swings were natural. This makes them all, likable or not, easy to invest in. This enables the dramatic intensity to hit harder. As well as giving weight and ramifications to the situations that unfold as this young man maneuvers around in a dark and seedy world, he is naive to.
The performances were the shining light of the movie and with solid material to work with, everyone brought the needed charisma to their characters. Graham Phillips was a very capable lead. He felt authentic and as the growth and self-discovery in the characters evolves, Phillips was able to hit the emotional beats with sincerity. Sydney Schafer was excellent as well and she poured a ton of emotional energy into the role. This character experiences relentless verbal and physical torture with near constant distress, yet there is an unyielding fight to her. Schafer captured this relentlessness and so much more with an unhinged performance that you can’t help but connect with. Shawn Hatosy was fantastic as he disappears into this role to create the perfect villain for a story like this. One that feels like a simple man, filled with pure evil. No eccentric personality, no constant screaming and bravado, just a man that was unpredictable and dead behind the eyes.
The visual-appeal was artistic and very appealing yet at the same time it was done very subtly. The aerial shots and use of natural-lighting give the movie the perfect style for this story. One that you don’t even notice yet would change the film completely if it was missing. The use of shadowing, wide-pans, and aerial-shots create a polish to the film that far exceeds its budget and it blends perfectly with the subject-matter to pull the viewer in. There is a strong old-western atmosphere that was extremely appealing, it gave the settings a rich backdrop that effectively create a larger world for this story to be told.
This film may navigate through some tropes in the genre, but with the writing, performances, and direction and cinematography that complements one another there is still a very compelling story to invest it. It will break your heart, lift your spirits, and having you guessing with nicely timed unpredictability. It’s a small budget movie with big-budget results and highly recommended for fans of gritty, western-themed mysteries.