A narratively complex, visually arresting coming of age story set in 1989 off the coast of Maine, director Derek Kimball’s Neptune is a fascinating indie offering that will delight just as many as it confounds, leading to passionate praise in some circles, if not outright rejection in others. This is a film that’s interested in having the audience feel something, and because it’s less concerned with traditional plot points and story structure, the dreamy tone might be considered to slow for less attentive viewers. Centering on the peculiar life lessons of a 14 year old girl as she develops a fixation on a local boy who has gone missing, but more a study of a mind in flux and a body and spirit in transition, Kimball and his co-writers Matthew Brown, Matthew Konkel, and Douglas Milliken add layer upon layer to their emotionally gripping story in an almost fevered effort to stack the deck. Results are extremely rewarding if a bit emotionally oblique, resulting in a movie with commercial prospects that seem relatively small, unless a passionate and adventurous distributor were to work some further festival exposure and VOD magic. With the right partnership, this film would receive the attention and viewings that it deserves.
First time actress Jane Ackermann is Hannah Newcombe, a teen living with her strict guardian who happens to be a Reverend (Tony Reilly, commanding). She’s attending an all-girls school when something tragic happens in her small town which takes her down a road of unexpected self-discovery. A local boy goes missing, prompting her to deeply question everyone and everything around her, with the film possessing an experiential quality that becomes instantly engrossing. She abandons her religious upbringing, which of course spurs on resentment from the Reverend, and she develops a unique relationship with the missing boy’s father, Bill McDonough in a subtle yet emotionally frazzled performance, taking a job working on his fishing boat, helping him with the lobster traps. What Kimball and his co-writers were going for with this somber and introspective tale is to hold accountable a society and its seeming randomness as a way into the psyche of a young woman as she herself takes on a certain level of outward and inward change. Ackermann is up to the task in more ways than one, fleshing out here character in nonverbal ways which help to anchor her quiet performance with a level of severity, and projecting a young Sarah Polley quality that was noticeable in any number of scenes and instances.
Kimball infuses his unpredictable debut with a creepy sense of atmosphere all throughout, while displaying a firm grasp of the material and essentially crafting exactly the sort of film that it seems he set out to make. Refreshingly uninterested in traditional narrative, his surrealist strokes come across as studied, adding a further component to the evocative mix of ingredients. Whether or not that will satisfy certain audience members remains to be seen, because while Neptune does contain what many would consider to be expected payoff, the journey to get to those moments is one filled with a sense of unplanned discovery and an interest in mood more than concrete plot developments. The tech package may be low in budget but it’s high on smarts and confidence, with dual cinematographers Jayson Lobozzo and Dean Merrill making huge, deeply moody impressions (the underwater photography is especially memorable), while Kimball’s astute editing creates a steady sense of unease. Sound design produces the intended chills in all the right spots. Neptune recently screened as part of the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival.