INDIEWATCH: ‘The Big Wedding’ a lightweight disappointment with heavy-hitters

“The Big Wedding” is now available on streaming, and for those who missed it in theaters, you may have saved some dough.

It stars Diane Keaton and Robert De Niro as ex-spouses, Ellie and Don, who reunite for their adopted son’s nuptials. The hitch is they have to pretend to still be married because their son’s biological mom is way religious.

It’s a pretty loose reason for a weekend of chaos, but “The Big Wedding” tries its hardest to make this charming to no avail. With a huge cast of star power — Susan Sarandon, Katherine Heigl, Topher Grace, Amanda Seyfried — there are too many cooks in the kitchen in this modern family rom-com.

Katherine Heigl plays a borderline lush and Susan Sarandon “the other woman” in “The Big Wedding.”

Bebe (Sarandon) is Don’s live-in girlfriend of 10 years, Lyla (Heigl) is boozing from the stress of a failed marriage, and Jared (Grace) is a 30-year-old virgin who’s saving himself for love.

The tamest characters are soon-to-be wed Missy (Seyfried) and Alejandro (Ben Barnes), who fight to stay positive despite looming family drama. Robin Williams plays a Catholic priest caricature who heads the wedding ceremony, and his comedic genius seems a distant memory.

From the get go, “The Big Wedding” plays more off of its cast than its plot.

Ellie (Keaton) walks in on Don and Bebe on the cusp of cunnilingus, Lyla is so drunk she vomits on Don the first time she sees him and Jared (Grace) flips from successful doctor to raucous lothario as he pursues his adopted brother’s biological sister.

It plays out a bit like a soap opera that touts a lot of characters and a lot of shenanigans.

Don (Robert De Niro) gets decked by his live-in girlfriend in front of his ex-wife, Ellie (Diane Keaton) in “The Big Wedding,” now available on streaming.


The kicking-someone-under-the-table schtick is used often, and the actors seem a bit noncommittal throughout — save for Robert De Niro.

This Oscar-winning powerhouse delivers moments of depth in comedies “Stardust” and “Meet the Parents,” and it’s no different in “The Big Wedding.”

In one scene, Don and Lyla are reconciling their difficult father-daughter relationship, and De Niro has one pure moment of grief and conflict, that made me nearly tear up.

Except for that, the acting in this film is ho-hum, though “The Big Wedding” does a decent job of sets and clothing — bright and light. The music definitely matches this film’s candid tone, though sometimes overpowering during scenes of hijinks.

“The Big Wedding” looks like a cute family movie, but it has a hard R rating with a lot of swearing and sexual content. If you’re in the mood for a silly escape in lieu of another blizzard, this may work for you, though, I hate to admit, “The Big Wedding” did nothing for me.

Grade: F

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.

INDIEWATCH: No life in ‘Dead Man Down’

Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace star in “Dead Man Down,” a movie with delusions of grandeur of Shakespearean proportions.

Victor (Farrell) saves his boss, crime-lord Alphonse (Terrence Howard), during a shake-up, where Alphonse accuses a thug of sending mysterious threats in the mail. We quickly find out — in the silliest of ways —- that Victor is behind the death notes.

Victor’s across-the-street neighbor, Beatrice, talks him into a date, and afterward, leads him to the door of the man who disfigured her in a drunken driving accident. Beatrice says she’ll use a video she took of Victor strangling someone in his apartment as blackmail unless he kills the man responsible for her plight.

Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace fall in weird, vengeful love in “Dead Man Down.”

This is the most heavy-hitting scene of “Dead Man Down.” Actress Rapace goes from 0 to 100 in 20 seconds, as does this movie that’s all about the heat of vengeance.

Beatrice seeks retribution for her disfigurement, and Victor’s lust for blood stems from the loss of his wife and daughter at the call of Alphonse. Rapace and Farrell play their parts at a level that feels sedated compared to previous roles, and they reveal their deepest motivations at an almost comical pace.

On their second meeting, Victor, who has been orchestrating Alphonse’s demise for years, dumps everything on Beatrice in a matter of minutes. Beatrice follows Victor on his various raids around town. Their connection cements, but the execution feels implausible. The rest of “Dead Man Down” plays out a bit predictably and melodramatically, as Beatrice and Victor fall in love that may or may not be consummated.

Terrence Howard fails to bring the pain as a crime lord in “Dead Man Down.”

Supporting players are a bit wasted. Terrence Howard doesn’t deliver as a crime boss. French mega-actress Isabelle Huppert stands in as Beatrice’s live-in mother, and Dominic Cooper stumbles about as Darcy, Victor’s gangster sidekick who’s trying to solve the mail mystery for Alphonse. Huppert is a powerhouse actress, but there was little to no time for her to shine. Actor Cooper did his part, which culminates in a standoff between him and Victor that falls flat.

“Dead Man Down” may lack a bit in plot execution, but I was taken with the set designs and music. Victor and Beatrice’s apartments felt foreign, and that made their crime world feel like a slight throwback to “The Professional.” Props for the music selected as a backdrop to action sequences, which director Niels Arden Oplev did pretty up to par. Aside from that, I wasn’t thrilled with this film.

“Dead Man Down” has a solid idea: Two seek redemption with vengeance-heavy hearts. But clocking in at almost two hours, the film doesn’t develop this enough for a viewer to invest in their fates. And personally, I checked out about an hour in.

Grade: D+

 Available: Amazon Prime (purchase), Netflix Instant.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.


INDIEWATCH: ‘Chasing Beauty’ sizes up the ugly side of modeling

Modeling, glamour and cults is “Chasing Beauty” in a nutshell.

It gives a behind-the-scenes look at the industry, society’s fixation on attractiveness and what beauty is through interviews with supermodels, fashion photographers, psychologists and more.

The pacing is grabbing from the get go and starts with a crazy statistic that 23 percent of young American women would rather lose their ability to read than their figures.

“Beauty is like money, it’s a currency,” says former model Kelly Andersen, and writer/director Brent Huff addresses our culture’s fascination with youth and beauty and how that’s reinforced to young women through television and film.

FIERCE: Model Allison Stepka in “Chasing Beauty.”

Budding models ages 5 to 21 are interviewed amid mildly disturbing footage of kids practicing their catwalks, and we follow an L.A.-bound woman from the Midwest and a high school football star who’s trying to make it as a shirtless Abercrombie and Fitch greeter.

Following them through rejection and resilience is difficult, and the industry is painted as all-business, cold and unforgiving.

Director Huff breaks down how we view beauty as a society through facial imaging analysis, how the most exquisite men and women are Photoshopped 100 percent of the time and the high standard of beauty today.

One modeling agent says fashion designers dictate sizes, which is more important than weight. Eating disorders are showcased, and the same modeling agent said a tell-tale sign a model is bulimic is she orders ice cream after a meal — it pads the burn of purging afterward.

“Chasing Beauty” spares no gory details of model insecurities. The most intriguing, and most distracting, segment is its look at first male supermodel Hoyt Richards’ 20-year involvement with a cult.

VOGUE: Male supermodel Hoyt Richards was in a cult for 20 years.

This felt like a serious sidestep, but it showed cult leaders actively preyed on models as a result of their insecurities, need for positive reinforcement and wealth. This was way too interesting of an insight into modeling that could’ve been a documentary in itself, and here, this film didn’t do this subject justice.

On the plus side, serious props for its view on beauty as a whole.

Modeling scouts and stylists admonish plastic surgery, and “Chasing Beauty” ends with industry heads reflecting on what beauty is.

“To me, a lot of beauty is from within,” says modeling agent Marion Smith, and stylist Brandon Sapin says beauty is “an attitude. It’s an air of confidence. It’s an aura.”
A Beverly Hills plastic surgeon says beauty is just a physical feature.

“We can change it, but the one thing I can’t change is your attitude about yourself,” says Dr. David Sayah. And male model Richards says he considers someone’s spirit and innate kindness more attractive than looks.

“Chasing Beauty” is a well-done documentary that covers a lot of ground, and true to its tagline, it “shows the ugly side of being pretty” — and for me, staring into ugliness has never been more captivating.

Grade: A-

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.


INDIEWATCH: ‘Somebody’ a deadpan look at immortality

“Somebody Up There Likes Me” plays out like a modern-day, indie fable.
It follows Max (Keith Poulson) for 35 years as he stays as young as his first scene thanks to a magical suitcase that spews age-defying, glittery light.

And what does a man with a fountain of youth do with his power?

He steals flowers from a cemetery plot, loses staring matches with kids and marries his co-worker Lyla (Jessica Weixler) who is later wooed by Max’s bestie, Sal (Nick Offerman).

AWWW: Nick Offerman (right) pulls a Ron Swanson in “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” costarring Keith Poulson (left).

Yes, “Somebody” is a little absurd, but there lies a glimmer of charm in its characters.
Max is an antihero with unlimited, misguided power in his magical suitcase. Sal is a hard-nosed bear of a man, and Lyla is unassuming and slightly adorable.

Poulson’s straight-faced and monotone style is perfect for the part of Max, and writer/director Bob Byington hams up Offerman’s deadpan delivery to a tee so well that it feels like Ron Swanson, of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” is on screen.

Poulson and Offerman’s banter throughout is witty, dry and seemingly improvised, and Offerman’s real-life wife, Megan Mullally, has a small and hilarious role as Max’s marriage counselor in a bad wig.

CHARMED BAGGAGE: Max takes a whiff of his magical suitcase.
It keeps him young.

These characters had me laughing out loud in the first 10 minutes in their oddball interactions, but one downfall is the charm of Max’s unsympathetic disposition wears off about halfway through.

He’s unfazed by birth, divorce or death, and his sardonic approach to life gets a bit stale — even for him.

“Somebody Up There Likes Me” is definitely not for everyone. It’s a comical ride, but unlike its main character, this film gets old after the first 30 minutes.

Grade: D+

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.
IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.


INDIEWATCH: ‘The Hunt’ a solid Oscar contender

You may recognize Mads Mikkelsen as the bad guy in NBC’s “Hannibal” or “Casino Royale,” but he plays a much different role in “The Hunt,” which is up for an Oscar on Sunday.

Mikkelsen stars as Lucas, a divorced kindergarten teacher who’s trying to win custody of his teenage son. He’s a staple in his community with a tight-knit group of friends, and he’s a favorite of the children and staff at his school — until one of his students develops an innocent crush and kisses him.

 He tells her actions like that are for moms and dads, and she responds with an unfounded accusation of indecent conduct.

Susse Wold (left) and Annika Wedderkopp in “The Hunt.”

Watching the school’s principal take unorthodox steps — calling Lucas’ ex-wife and sharing the accusation with other parents before calling the authorities — is incredibly unsettling. Hysteria on par with “The Crucible” sets in, and there’s no turning back even when the student says she lied.

The key difference between “The Hunt” and other films about child abuse —  such as “Doubt” and “The Woodsman” — is our protagonist is innocent, and that makes the shift in this film hard to bear.

I was on the edge of my seat as the townspeople preyed on Lucas with cunning. His friends, colleagues and former students fear and flee him, and avoidance escalates to violence slowly and realistically.

ON GUARD: Mads Mikkelsen in “The Hunt.”

Mikkelsen relays subdued despair and suspicion so well that you’re paranoid for him.

In one scene, his girlfriend asks if he’s guilty. His exhaustion flips to hopelessness then rage as he repeats “You think I’m a sick person?”

Supporting players Thomas Bo Larsen and Annika Wedderkopp take “The Hunt” to the next level, but it’s Mikkelsen’s performance that steals the show.
The direction and cinematography were spot on with earthy tones indoors and out, reinforcing the town as a metaphorical hunting ground.

This film is an engrossing look at our flawed human nature, civility as a social construct and the fragile line between the hunter and the hunted.

“The Hunt” is a solid candidate for an Oscar win Sunday, and it’s definitely worth a watch.

Grade: A-

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.

INDIEWATCH: Birbiglia delivers universally likable comedy in ‘My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend’

I’m pretty new to standup comedy. In recent years, I’ve fallen in love with Patton Oswalt, John Mulaney and, of course, Louis C.K., but one comedian I’ve always been keen to is Mike Birbiglia.

He’s playing the Fargo Theatre on Friday, and to prep, I watched his latest special, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.” I’m happy to say it cemented my fandom.

I first heard his comedy on NPR’s “This American Life,” but seeing him perform is so much better. Like many comedians, he’s insightful, self-deprecating and intelligent, and his unassuming stature and boyish face add to his comedic execution.

Mike Birbiglia in “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.”

In one bit, he likens making out to a dog eating spaghetti, and his imitation is horrifyingly funny. Later, he talks about a carnival ride that ruined his first kiss, as he spins in circles on stage.

Versus ongoing punchlines, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” is a personal narrative of Birbiglia’s relationships. His pacing is on point, and he plays off of the crowd wonderfully for effect.

In one bit, he says “The final red flag with Amanda is that she told me not to tell anyone that she was my girlfriend.” Slight groans in the crowd are answered with  “I know. I’m in the future also.”

Watching this, I was taken with how he shares embarrassment and injustices without a trace of malevolence. He talks about being T-boned by a drunken driver, and he stops to footnote this as “the culinary way of describing it,” and the kicker is his innocent-looking expression.

Birbiglia’s so raw, painfully honest and always at a PG-13 level in this film. It’s natural to relate to him as he reveals universally awkward and coming-of-age moments like being the last one in middle school to kiss, slow-dancing for the first time and the start of a new romance.

I laughed out loud consistently, rewound parts and was pleasantly surprised by this film’s ending.

I was moved to the point of tears, which seems the antithesis of a standup routine, but on the contrary, that made “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” more unique and likable.

If you can’t make Birbiglia’s show Friday, check this out. It’s definitely worth a watch.

Grade: A

Available: Amazon and iTunes purchase, Netflix Instant.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.



INDIEWATCH: Two films for whatever genre you’re craving this Valentine’s Day

Movies can complement or distract emotion pretty well, and during a holiday for lovers, I sometimes opt for heart-warming or heart-pumping movies. If you feel like switching it up, here are two very different films for whichever mood you’re in this Valentine’s Day.


I’m a fan of romantic comedies, but I do tire of their formulaic plots. That’s why “Stuck in Love” was a breath of fresh air.

Bill (Greg Kinnear) is a divorcee who’s still hung up on his remarried ex-wife, Erica (Connelly), but more than your typical rom-com, “Stuck in Love” looks at the lovey growing pains of Bill and Erica’s children.

Jennifer Connelly and Greg Kinnear star in “Stuck in Love.”

Samantha (Lily Collins) opts for pragmatic promiscuity to avoid heartbreak on par with her father’s, and Rusty (Nat Wolff) is a high-schooler who falls for a classmate with some deep (snort) secrets. Both young actors do a phenomenal job, and Collins has more acting ability than her “Mirror, Mirror” past. I don’t know where Wolff came from, but in one scene where the whole family drives to rescue Rusty’s girlfriend from herself, I was completely arrested by his execution of emotion.

Kinnear and Connelly bring it, though I was a little uncomfortable with some of the mood shifts in this movie. It goes from serious to light-hearted a bit uneasily. In one scene, Kinnear’s neighbor (Kristen Bell) helps him dress for a date. Cue the cute music and montage of outfits. This would have worked seamlessly in any other romantic comedy, but “Stuck in Love” travels into realistic territory — addiction, cancer and dealing with your own flaws — so well that this change of heart didn’t seem to fit.

“Stuck in Love” can bring you back to your first heartbreak and casts a spotlight on what first love may look like today. I was completely engaged and rooting for these characters, and I’d watch it again as it offers a taste of realism with a (mostly) satisfying ending.

Grade: B-


M. Night Shyamalan has been dead to me since he made trees serial killers in “The Happening.” So with sighs and eye rolls, I watched “Devil,” a film based on one of his stories, and I reluctantly admit I was into it.

Five strangers are stuck in an elevator, and one of them is Satan! Sounds a little ridiculous, but “Devil” unfolds like a crime thriller or “Law and Order” episode, as a detective (Chris Messina) digs into each passenger’s past.

Things get heated when five strangers are stuck in an elevator together in “Devil.”











The gore is pretty minimal in this PG-13 flick, but the real suspense kicks off as you watch them squirm in a confined space.

In one scene, a claustrophobic passenger starts to unravel as the lights malfunction, and whenever the lights go out, someone dies. This setup built suspense because I put myself in their shoes, and save for some too-obvious thematic references (the elevator’s in a building at 333 Locust Avenue), I did want to see what happened next.

This is supposed to be the first in “The Night Chronicles Trilogy,” and I’d easily watch the next two movies when they’re released — if they were streaming and if they were no longer than 80 minutes.

Grade: C-

Both available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.

What’s your favorite rom-com?

INDIEWATCH: Philip Seymour Hoffman shines in ‘A Late Quartet’

News of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death Sunday struck me pretty hard, so, to cope, I opted to watch one of his films that I hadn’t seen — and it was like pouring salt on an open wound.

Hoffman stars in “A Late Quartet,” which examines the group dynamics of four career musicians, when Peter (Christopher Walken) is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

In their first scene together, Robert (Hoffman) suggests they play this year’s concert by memory to Peter’s encouragement and first-string violinist Daniel’s (Mark Ivanir) rejection.

“It’s a risk,’ he says, and as first violin, he seems to have the final say. Robert’s wife, Juliet (Catherine Keener) agrees, and the tone is set.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (right) and Mark Ivanir star in “A Late Quartet.”

They’re all civil, soft-spoken and refined — as I would imagine many string musicians would be after 25 years together, but the heart of this story kicks off as the quartet begins to unravel.

Robert and Juliet’s marriage is increasingly tense and I questioned if the quartet was the only thing keeping them together. Juliet threatens to quit if Peter retires, and Daniel approaches everything with a pragmatic rigidity. Watching everything go downhill, I hadn’t yet seen what they were fighting for. Sweet move from screenwriters Seth Grossman and Yaron Zilberman as this made the shift to magic and meaning that much more rewarding.


Imogen Poots and Mark Ivanir get a little close in “A Late Quartet.”

During a trip to purchase horse hair for a violin bow, Daniel explains to his apprentice Alexandra (Imogen Poots) why playing in a quartet is better than going solo. “It’s the only way to find meaningful interpretations,” Daniel says.

“The greatest composers, when they wanted to express their most sincere thoughts, feelings, dig deep into their souls, always this four, always the quartet.” It was a surprising insight from musically militant Daniel, and it’s evident that playing music elevates his existence as well as the rest of them.

I loved seeing Walken reclaim his dramatic roots, and Keener played painfully subdued well. Poots fully exacted youth and musical genius, but the real heartbreaker was Hoffman. In a scene opposite Keener, they’re at an auction house and he confronts her about their marriage. I was in awe of how he executed emotion with the tone of one syllable. “A Late Quartet” is worth watching, if only to see a master at work in this rewarding character study and look at how music can further our humanity.

Grade: B-

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.



INDIEWATCH: ‘Fruitvale Station’ (mostly) worth the hype

“Fruitvale Station” was one of the most anticipated indie films of the year for me.
It won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and Best First Film at Cannes. That mixed with the hoopla around the film’s star, Michael B. Jordan, and I was ready for an experience.
And I got one.

“Fruitvale” is a look at the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who was shot in 2009 while handcuffed, lying face down in the Bay Area Rapid Transit subway station in Oakland, Calif. That said, knowing the events of the shooting won’t diminish this trip into one man’s humanity.

Michael B. Jordan and Melonie Diaz in "Fruitvale Station."

Michael B. Jordan and Melonie Diaz in “Fruitvale Station.”

It opens with Oscar (Jordan) and Sophina (Melonie Diaz) sharing their New Year’s resolutions, and his is to stop selling “trees.” As “Fruitvale” unfolds, he’s fallen on hard times: he’s lost his job and the rent is due, and we watch Oscar contemplate the right choices. Watching him engage with his girlfriend, daughter and mother, feel-goody love flows from the screen. But writer/director Ryan Coogler was mindful not to overdo it — he establishes Oscar as a good man through tiny and realistic exchanges.

Oscar calls his grandmother for a grocery store customer who needs help with a fish fry. He has mercy on a stray dog. He sneaks his daughter an extra pack of fruit snacks. Watching this character so closely, I was a huge fan of this guy’s heart.

Octavia Spencer in “Fruitvale.”

That had a lot to do with Jordan’s portrayal, and the cast is full of heavy-hitters: Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer and Diaz. In one pivotal scene, Oscar’s mother, Wanda (Spencer) visits him in prison. Jordan emits tender and loving engagement before flipping the switch to rage when confronted by another inmate. I was shocked he’d thrown down in front of his mom, but it felt realistic and believable.

Jordan delivered in every scene with the same emotional depth and candor. Spencer worked as the heart of this film, bringing crushed, nuanced emotion with a slight crack of the voice, and Diaz can bounce between sassy indignation and forgiveness at the drop of a hat.

This film was well-written, as Coogler guides audiences through Oscar’s history through some key flashbacks. The cinematography felt gritty and the dialogue genuine. It’s obvious Coogler knows effective storytelling, though one criticism I have is there’s too much foreshadowing to Oscar’s shooting.

“The fireworks sound like guns”: Oscar (Jordan) talks to his daughter one last time.

Oscar’s daughter is scared because the fireworks sound like gunshots. He asks his girlfriend to stay home that fateful night, but she declines. He has a chance meeting with a business owner who could change his career path for the better. It felt a bit overdone, forced and possibly manipulative in an effort to ramp up the tragedy of an already heartbreaking ending.

That said, this is Coogler’s first film. The shooting touched his home community, and he lived through the riots that exploded afterward, so it makes sense that this story bears a lot of weight for him. This film haunted me for days, so I’ll watch anything Coogler makes from now on.

“Fruitvale Station” lifts you to an emotional high of love and redemption then slams you down to face the realities of injustice. One commenter on the DVD extra features said “Once we see everyone as human beings, we’ll all be better off.” I think raising awareness to that may be “Fruitvale’s” greatest achievement.

It’s definitely worth a watch, though have a sunny movie on deck as a palate cleanser.

Grade: B-

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix rental.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.

INDIEWATCH: Duhamel goes splendidly psycho in ‘Scenic Route’

Josh Duhamel stars as the better half of an old-friend duo whose car breaks down in the middle of the California desert. Dan Fogler plays Carter, the aloof author friend, who is holding onto the college glory days. Looking at these two characters, even their wardrobe screams they have different priorities. Mitchell (Duhamel) touts a baby blue polo and khakis, and Carter wears a nondescript T-shirt and unkempt curly hair.

When their truck breaks down, Mitchell, in a casted foot, limps to find cellphone reception, as Carter scampers behind. Panic sets in when they can’t find a signal, and they realize they have no food or water.

Dreamy Josh Duhamel in “Scenic Route.”

I didn’t realize how much this scenario freaked me out until I watched this film, and “Scenic Route” plays off of that fear that when man is pitted against nature — nature and primitive instincts win.

Carter reveals he staged the breakdown, so they could have more time to reconnect, but his version of reconnecting is personally attacking Mitchell’s switch to domesticity. As temperatures rise, the film devolves into violence and a barbaric face-off at a realistic pace.

I’d only ever seen Duhamel in romantic movies (“Safe Haven”) or popcorn blockbusters (“Transformers”). “Scenic Route” unravels like a David Mamet play: heavy dialogue, visceral emotion and no exploding cars or machinery to deter from the actors. Duhamel brings the rage and the intricate despair as their abandonment from civilization stretches across days. Fogler and Duhamel play off of each other so well, it’s believable they were besties at some point — necessary for this mostly two-person film.

THE DESERT CHANGES PEOPLE: Duhamel and Dan Fogler are at odds with nature — and each other.

Relatively green directors Michael Goetz and Kevin Goetz know how to use and — most importantly — avoid overusing music to set the tone. When conditions put each character’s sanity into question, directors Goetz ham up siren-like background music so well, it was reminiscent an Alfred Hitchcock film (in only that regard).

Screenwriter Kyle Killen plays up the desert as another character in “Scenic Route”: the heat and isolation acting as the biggest facilitators of madness. You feel the mercury and tension rising, and I was increasingly uncomfortable and engaged. I doubt I’d rewatch this — which means everyone involved executed their jobs to a tee.

No spoilers, but some would say the ending was a bit predictable. I say that even if I saw it coming, I was still on the edge of my seat and anxious at the prospect.

If you want to see Duhamel exercise his acting chops and rock a mohawk, “Scenic Route” is worth a watch.

Grade: B-

Available: Amazon Prime, Netflix Instant.

IndieWatch is a weekly review of independent film and documentaries.