Review: Brotherhoods exciting real-life thriller nearly sinks

Richard Bell’s movie about a 1926 Ontario camping disaster is less than the sum of its parts

BROTHERHOOD (Richard Bell). 97 minutes. Opens Friday (December 6). See listing. Rating: NNN

Brotherhood has a great story to tell, but can’t quite find the best way to tell it. 

Set in the summer of 1926, writer/director Richard Bell’s ensemble drama-cum-survival thriller re-creates the Ontario camping getaway for teenage boys that turned into a terrifying test of will and strength when their war canoe capsized in Balsam Lake, stranding a dozen people in freezing water far from shore. 

It’s a hell of a tale – and a true one – though Bell’s decision to shift back and forth between pre- and post-disaster becomes increasingly frustrating as the film goes on, as does his tendency to underline the significance of the war metaphors lurking underneath. There’s also the functional problem of half the movie taking place in water on a moonless night, giving cinematographer Adam Swica almost nothing to work with.

Bell orchestrates some fine moments among the young cast – which includes The Order’s Jake Manley and Northern Rescue’s Spencer Macpherson in key roles – and Brendan Fehr and Brendan Fletcher find some compelling notes as the First World War veterans charged with minding the boys. 

But there’s a nagging sense that Brotherhood is, ultimately, less than the sum of its parts. Maybe it should have been a radio play.


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