❉ This is unpredictable, unnerving, and just trippy enough to reward multiple viewings, writes Nick Clement.
A motion picture like Overwhelm the Sky almost dares you to watch it. Running at 170 minutes, shot in silky black and white, and concerned with thematic notions that some might find too perplexing, it’s exactly the type of micro-budgeted, independently financed passion project that would be born from a filmmaker of exacting vision and possessing complete command of their craft. Directed by Daniel Kremer, from an enigmatic script that he co-wrote with the film’s talented cinematographer Aaron Hollander and mysterious leading man Alexander Hero, Overwhelm the Sky was completed in 2019, and has been touring the festival circuit for the last couple of years, along with doing a Roadshow Release in theaters before finding home video support from Kino Lorber. After seeing this huge effort from Kremer, I’m keen to investigate his body of work further (seven other features), because if someone’s capable of this item, then obviously more gifts are likely to be in store for the viewer.
Here’s where I start telling you about the “plot,” but because this movie isn’t concerned with telling a linear or perhaps fully conclusive story, it’s sort of pointless to attempt any sort of blow by blow of what transpires on a moment to moment basis; this is a work that requires the viewer to experience it as a full meal of cinema, where you’re required to do some heavy lifting to bridge the purposefully oblique gaps. The Kino notes describe it as “an epic odyssey of a spiritually shell-shocked man searching for answers in a world of loners, mourners, kooks, seducers, deceivers, and sleepwalkers.” Yep – that’d be about correct. Kremer’s artful vision conjures up thoughts of Antonioni, Lynch, and, in crucial spots, the sardonic humor of the Coen brothers, and while the studied influences, both filmic and literary, will be felt to those in-the-know, this is very much its own piece of thoughtful work, with just as much going on visually as there is on a heightened narrative level.
Loosely adapted from the 1799 gothic novel Edgar Huntly, or Memoirs of a Sleepwalker by Charles Brockden Brown, Overwhelm the Sky centers upon a man named Eddie Huntly (Hero), an east coast radio personality who has just moved to San Francisco, in order to get married to a woman named Thea, who happens to be the sister of his best friend, Neil. Not long before Eddie makes it to the west coast, Neil is found dead in Golden Gate Park, the victim of an apparent murder. In between his first steps at his new late-night talk-show job, Eddie becomes obsessed with visiting the area where Neil’s body was discovered. But his life is forever changed after one particular visit sets into motion something much larger than he can control or that he could ever expect, with results that are unpredictable, unnerving, and just trippy enough to reward multiple viewings.
Overwhelm the Sky is a visual and aural feast, with Hollander’s boldly monochrome, 2:35.1 widescreen compositions frequently inviting the pause button on your remote control, just so that you can luxuriate in all that’s being offered on a pictorial level. One striking shot after another is provided to the viewer, but what makes the film all the more special is that each shot comes fully loaded with some sort of idea or piece of visual information; this isn’t simply pretty image making for the sake of pretty image making. The location shooting in San Francisco is adroitly contrasted with sequences set in the barren Arizona desert, where characters make life or death decisions, which carry the full weight of their actions and consequences. The all-encompassing musical score by Costas Dafnis expertly blends a sense of the classical with the experimental, resulting in an edgy, moody sonic quality that further brings the viewer into this surreal world.
As much as I was taken by what Kremer and his collaborators have come up with here, I can certainly see how this film will challenge many viewers. It’s hard to say if a shorter version of this story would result in an overall work that feels as compelling, because at times, the film does feel its length, but not in any way that was off-putting. But when you look back at the entire piece upon its conclusion, it’s hard to think of the film lasting for anything shorter or longer than how it’s been presented. Not every piece of storytelling needs to have a true sense of finality; life doesn’t start and stop in 90 to 120 minute intervals. And because Kremer knows this, his work carries a lasting impression that feels designed to be sustainable over the years. Overwhelm the Sky is available for purchase on a special features-packed DVD via Kino Lorber, which contains a filmmaker’s commentary, trailers, outtakes, and behind the scenes featurettes, and is also available as part of the Kino Now digital streaming app. You can also find the film as a pay-rental item across various other content providers, including YouTube, Google Play Movies & TV, Vudu, and Apple TV.
❉ ‘Overwhelm the Sky’ (2019) Directed by Daniel Kremer. Available on DVD and digital from Kino Lorber (Only ships to US & Canada). Also Available On i Tunes, Google Play and VUDU.
❉ Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.