The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (2018)
Written and directed by Henry Dunham
Produced by Johnathan Brownlee, Adam Donaghey, Sefton Fincham, Amanda Presmyk, Dallas Sonnier
Cinematography by Jackson Hunt
Edited by Josh Ethier
Production company Cinestate
Distributed by RLJ Entertainment
(1:28) RLJ Entertainment Blu-Ray
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek has been compared to films as diverse as Reservoir Dogs, 12 Angry Men, and John Carpenter’s The Thing, as well as the work of David Mamet, Jeremy Saulnier, Rod Serling, and even Agatha Christie whodunits. The film’s title sounds like a western, and in some ways, it is. Someone could very well be riding into town in order to destroy everything you cherish. That’s the essence of The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, with potential repercussions both local and widespread.
From a police radio, an ex-cop named Gannon (James Badge Dale) learns that earlier in the day, a gunman opened fire with an AR-15 at a nearby police funeral and was not apprehended. Gannon meets the other six members of his local militia at their regular gathering place, a secluded warehouse. As they speculate on who could’ve committed this act and what might be the ramifications, the men discover one of their AR-15s is missing. Everyone in the militia is present and accounted for, but no one confesses to the shooting.
The consequences of the act reach far beyond the simple discovery of the guilty party among their group. These guys understand that all militias have been under scrutiny ever since the Oklahoma City bombing, but things have gotten more intense. Many see militia groups as far more than a bunch of weekend warriors, but rather very focused people stockpiling weapons and supplies, preparing for the breakdown of the government and established systems, institutions they believe have let them down. Gannon and his friends know they’re about to come under attack. In essence, the war has begun.
At the urging of Ford (Chris Mulkey), the group’s leader, Gannon (a former police interrogator) immediately launches into an investigation. Who’s the most likely suspect? Ford himself, who initiated the interrogations? Or Noah (Brian Geraghty), whom Ford has never completely trusted? Maybe it’s Morris (Happy Anderson), who blames the police for the death of a family member. Keating (Robert Aramayo), the group’s youngest member, is mute and withdrawn, so how do you know anything about him? How about the nerdy-looking Beckman (Patrick Fischler), who’s in charge of monitoring radio communications, a man who not only informs the others as to current developments, but also asks lots of suspicious questions? Then there’s the group’s oldest (and most out-of-shape) member, Hubbel (Gene Jones, forever famous as the gas station attendant in No Country for Old Men), who frequently pontificates on the past and the future. Someone is not who they seem.
More importantly, who do we believe and why? Does Gannon want the truth or a scapegoat? But the group soon has more to worry about. As Beckman continues to monitor police scanners, he announces to the group that other militias are attacking policemen all over the country. Was the killer in their midst the inspiration for copycats or simply part of a larger conspiracy?
The film - and its characters - lives or dies by its believability. The characters (as well as the audience) are constantly questioning every word spoken by the others. That’s quite a lot to keep up with, even in a film that clocks in at under 90 minutes. Much of the credit for this taut presentation goes to this fine group of actors, but first-time director Dunham never allows any one character (or one philosophy) to overshadow the others.
Dunham has also choreographed a nail-biter that’s severely intensified by a confined location. We hear police radio reports, but we can’t see what’s happening very far outside the warehouse. Yet Dunham creates visual interest by shooting scenes at various locations in and around the warehouse, giving the audience an intensity of mood and atmosphere. Sound also plays an important part in the film. Dunham has done his homework, not only with a tight script, but also in how he stages each scene in the warehouse. Plus he shot the entire film in 18 days.
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is ultimately not about politics, ideologies, or worldviews. It’s about raw emotion, fear, suspicion, and survival. It is the latter elements, not the former, which give the film its urgency.
If you’re a Hulu subscriber, you can watch the film for free. I bought the Blu-ray for $5 on Amazon a couple of weeks ago. The price is now $8.99, still worth taking a chance on. (The disc contains only one extra, a 10-minute “making of” segment.) I hope you’ll give this film a look. And definitely keep an eye on Henry Dunham.
Photos: The New York Times, Letterboxd, Film School Rejects, Hi-Def Digest