SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS (Ed Gass-Donnelly). 75 minutes. Opens Friday (February 18) at the Royal. See Indie & Rep Film, page 72. See Indie & Rep Film listings Rating: NN
While it's easy to admire the unique stylistic accents director Ed Gass-Donnelly fearlessly applies to his northern Ontario murder mystery, it's not so easy to enjoy them. Small Town Murder Songs is self-conscious to a fault, interrupting moments of minimalist and contemplative beauty with overzealous religious gimmicks and loud, bombastic musical montages.
Peter Stormare (the guy who found some nuanced use for a wood chipper in Fargo) wears a constant frown as Walter, an anguished cop and born-again Christian from a small Mennonite town. Weighing Walter down is a past misdeed that won't stay buried and a recent homicide in his jurisdiction.
While he mistrusts his own cop instincts, the community, too, is alert to his mood. It doesn't help matters that Walter's old flame (Jill Hennessy) is shacking up with the prime murder suspect, making the case a little too personal.
Stormare does a fine job physicalizing Walter's moral conflicts and emotional turmoil. If only that were enough to carry the movie.
The material here is wafer thin, a problem Gass-Donnelly compensates for by making the Bruce Peninsula's folksy religious tunes as central as the plot's goings-on - an ultimately frustrating ploy.