?You?re never haunted by just one ghost.?
Northern Shade, first feature from writer/director Christopher Rucinski, is a story about isolation and connections. In the process, it shows us the cost of the increasing isolation that we face in our lives.
Justin McLaughlin (Jesse Gavin) has been back from his deployment in Afghanistan for seven years. He lives alone on a boat and does menial jobs so he can drink his life away. He is estranged from his family?for many reasons. The only consistent thing in his life is that he is haunted by the ghost of Noel (Alejandro Bravo), a friend from the army who was killed while standing next to him.
When Justin?s mother reaches out to him to try to find his brother, Charlie (Joseph Poliquin), he?s not interested. A pretty private investigator, Frankie (Tatania Galliher) also seeks his help as she tries to find another missing young man in the area that Charlie was in. It is not until Noel pushes him that he goes looking for Charlie. In Connecticut, he learns of a compound where a militia trains. They are very secretive and secluded. When he gains access and is shown a grave, he knows he must get in and rescue his brother. He recruits Frankie?s help (she also has a military background) and they sneak into the compound and discover that the group has a planned mission against the government.
When Charlie and Justin reunite, at first, Charlie wants nothing to do with Justin, who he sees as having abandoned him when Justin joined the army. In the militia, Charlie has found a new family, headed by Billy (Romano Ozari) who claims to be military, but is really just a wannabe who lives off stolen valor. Even after the battle with Frankie and Justin against Billy and his group, Charlie is free from Billy, but may not ready to be with Justin.
The film uses a broad brush to tell the story. There is little insight into the mentality that makes up the foundation of militias and the threat they present. Justin and Billy are stereotypes of their characters. We see some depth in Justin?s pain, but never quite see where his virtue is based.
The story is set during the COVID period. Masks are worn often. The masks are another layer of isolation that these characters face. The one time Justin does manage to connect with someone (Noel?s wife), it only causes him more angst. Even though most of us don?t still wear masks frequently, this film reminds us that we too may have felt a bit isolated from our communities when we spent so much time behind our bits of cloth. It may have been necessary, but it still left us feeling alone.
Justin?s isolated life, designed to keep him from feeling the pain of his deployment and Noel?s death, blocked him from finding life on his return. Charlie also felt isolated and found a substitute family that was willing to use him for their own purposes. It is only by facing his failings as a brother and a son that Justin begins to move forward in his life to reconnect with people who loved him. And only by forgiving Justin that Charlie is able to free himself for a new life.
Northern Shade is in theaters and available on virtual cinema.
Photos courtesy of Bayview Entertainment.