Making a feature dedicated to one story can be difficult enough. There’s development of characters, plot lines, thorough visuals and storytelling that all have the potential to suffer, even in the hands of the best film makers. For novices, the result can almost be too much to handle. With these ideas in mind, it isn’t any wonder why one be skeptical when prepping to view Critical Nexus, as the initial plot synopsis involves a three story approach.
Oh yea….did I mention that this is director Tirf Alexius’ first feature too? You know…no pressure….
Even with the initial apprehension, the story of Critical Nexus seems like an easy one to gauge based off the film’s trailer and setup. Teen girl runs away from home in order to discover her sexual identity and an investigator is brought in to find her before one of her many online stalkers tries to cross over the preverbal line of virtual reality to make his dreams come true. This seems simple and could be intriguing enough to hold an audience for 90+ minutes, but first time director Alexius wanted more from his story.
Critical Nexus has a lot going on. Once passed the fast-paced & intriguing opening, which setup up the initial Katie story, writer Todd Heller thrusts audiences into 4 sub-plots: anti-hero Mark, as he struggles with personal redemption based on his past regrets, Brendan’s story dealing with his own twisted views on reality as they manifest themselves into obsessive tendency and Katie’s father & his ties to the Mafia. It’s a lot to take in and a lot to keep up in momentum, as such, generally seen as a downfall for many young filmmakers & writers. Here Alexius, does fall prey to the convention as he loses what feels to be specific character moments that could have evolved if they were given within individual films on their own. Partly due to quick editing and the strength of Katie’s overarching identity story as a well-defined entity, many of the side plot points simply become mute & unfortunately Nexus suffers in fluidity from time-to-time as the side structures momentarily drag momentum in the grand scheme of things.
In the end, its up to a director to make sure that the moment of convergence for a film’s tale on all sides are wrapped up; for Alexius, he has shown that he has an eye for setting up his final outcome and does in execution. Critical Nexus get its footing & clipped pace to capture the overall path, which Alexius has taken charge with by stripping many specifics of the film to keep audiences guessing as to locales and central focus. Normally this wouldn’t take well but here it lends a nice quality in helping bolster the general sense of loss & the greater search for identity and one’s journey in the principle characters here.
In fact, there are a handful of other positives to be had from Alexius’ first foray project in the hot seat. Edgy storytelling, raw & intriguing cinematic moments and the ability to unveil an eye for shrouded noir-based stories. Furthermore, Alexius shows strength in both his crew and his actors to build solid work & truthful performances. Ron Rehana’s cinematography tackles the films’ multiple plots with suitable variance in style and composition, which helps when some of the editing fails to fully solidify full thoughts. There is a slick voyeuristic quality to Rehana’s work which will draw audiences into the cyber world of our runaway’s journey, but also lends a distanced tone to Critical Nexus which gives the overall picture an outsider’s viewpoint of something cold, harsh & unfeeling. Most scene work is overall directionally cohesive and has a presence of mystique and momentum but can feel rushed in production, possibly in lieu of budget restraints that can be often associated with smaller independent films.
The best footage certainly presents itself during emotional confessionals from the runaway Katie, who is carried out by the tragically and truthfully-spirited teen-blogger, Kiley B. Moore. The raw and honest work which Moore displays shows a balance of a Lolita-esque quality of sexiness and an underlying melancholy to the lost-soul character that’s surprisingly mature; it’s not a run-of-the-mill turn in the usual emo-teen girl setting and it’s appreciated. Karmann Bajuyo’s Mark displays some nice comic timing but generally comes across as a bit too broad for the same World in which everyone else seems to be living in. Chad Meyer gives a balanced & thoughtful performance in the buddy-role of Johnny – it’s the right amount of shoulder to cry on but you’ll want to punch him when he’s let off his leash.
It’s takes a well-paced director and smart writer to be able to balance story and character simultaneously, while capturing very specific time & place sensibilities in a unique voice. Kevin Smith, Harmony Korine, Derrick Cianfrance – these directors were talented and lucky to leap from the screen without needing to use splashy visuals or over-the-top sensibilities from an early stage of their careers, because they simply house unique voices & viewpoints that are filled with an unconventional style & raw character moments. While Tirf Alexius hasn’t quite gotten his style honed in as well as the preceded names yet & his work is that of hands from a young filmmaker, never-the-less, the style is the director’s own & shows that with a little bit more time and refinement, he will find exactly what it is he has to say and hit it right on the head.
Learn more and watch the trailer here. Opens in select theaters Friday September 13th.