Review: BIG SKY

bigskyI first saw actress Bella Thorne on a morning talk show promoting her teen comedy THE DUFF and wasn’t sure how to interpret her. That film was aimed towards the MTV audience that watches shows like AWKWARD and TEEN MOM.  She seemed to struggle a bit in the interview trying to establish that her film was not as heartless as the marketing make it out to be and I couldn’t blame her. THE DUFF ended up being a critical and financial success at the box office, spreading her familiarity with mainstream audiences who might not have caught her on her Disney series SHAKE IT UP, where she had developed a young following. When the SCREAM TV series was announced, her name was utilized as the opening kill in the pilot, supposedly resembling Drew Barrymore’s infamous scene in the original film. Sporting a bikini and iPhone with a mean girl persona, it is clear she is trying to slice up her good girl image and broaden her filmography.

Director Jorge Michel Grau (known in the genre world for the original WE ARE WHAT WE ARE) introduces a new role for Thorne in BIG SKY, a slow burn thriller that explores mental instability in the most unexpected of ways. Teenager Hazel (Thorne) is on her way to a treatment center with her mother, Dee (Kyra Sedgwick, in a surprising yet subtle role) for her agoraphobia when two gun men stop their van, leaving many dead. The gunmen completely miss Hazel as she was laying in a coffin like box in the back due to her condition and Dee is shot, but alive and injured. When the gunmen flee, Hazel has to confront her fears and travel out in the desert to find help for her mother, while the possibilty of the encountering the gunmen is always present. Why the gunmen chose to attack this particular van is a mystery that slowly unfolds, encouraging viewers to continue to watch.

What’s great about BIG SKY is how every scene seems to play a part. Many 90 minute thrillers create filler scenarios that only work as ways to extend the running time, but here there is something to be learned about all the characters. Thorne is great as she handles material not so familiar to her past credits without overacting. She is calm and innocent, often reminding me of Bryce Dallas Howard in LADY IN THE WATER. Sedgwick and her have a heartbreaking chemistry on screen that is not often found as their relationship is far from perfect and not part of an ensemble of some feel good sitcom.  For a thriller, BIG SKY is a farely quiet movie, focusing more on personality, both on the characters and environment. The open desert manages to feel claustraphobic and Hazel’s condition translates well on the screen as the audience sympathizes for her easily. Frank Grillo (THE PURGE: ANARCHY) plays one of the gunmen here and gives a stable performance that doesn’t require too much and he works with what he has. This is definitely a thriller that succeeds in grabbing your attention for the running time , but might not leave the viewer with remembering much.

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