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The Independent Critic

Braz Cubas, Joel Loftin, Jessica Hecht, Valient Himself, Burk Uzzle, Christopher Levoy Bower, Richard Buff, Margarita Cranke
Jethro Waters
93 Mins.

 Movie Review: Gunfighter Paradise 
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Hear me out. 

If Beasts of the Southern Wild had a cinematic child with Alex Garland's Civil War, I'd like to think that child would look something like the unique and extraordinary Gunfighter Paradise. 

From the mind of writer-director Jethro Waters, Gunfighter Paradise is a darkly humorous and surprisingly moving motion picture. It's a film that makes us laugh, nervously, yet also submerges us in rural American horror and a mystery that unfolds in such weighty ways that you reach the end of the film and wonder what the hell just hit you. 

The film centers around Stoner (Braz Cubas), a hunter who returns to his North Carolina home after the death of his mother. He's got with him a mysterious green case. He seems different fairly quickly, though just how different doesn't begin to come to life until he moves back into the family home and we come face-to-face with the disintegration of his mind. Divine voices, holy visions, and his mother's hand-written riddles further exacerbate his seeming psychological disintegration as we become privy to a series of visitors ranging from the cable guy, not Jim Carrey, a mummified cat, zealous neighbors, and a killer. 

If you haven't figured out what to expect yet, you're likely not alone. 

Waters refers to Gunfighter Paradise as "a semi-autobiographical dark comedy," though this quiet little narrative hint doesn't really tell us what to expect or what this all exactly means. 

That's the way it should be. 

Gunfighter Paradise is a glorious film to behold. Waters's own lensing for the film practically bathes us in a sort of Southern-tinged horror that creeps us the fuck out even when we're not exactly sure why. Original music by Waters with Bryan Black is a nearly perfect tapestry of industrial roots and fractured gospel. Waters also edits the film himself, lingering in all the perfect moments and cutting away with precision and sublime intution. 

Unsurprisingly, there are religious themes throughout Gunfighter Paradise in this world that frighteningly mirrors reality and amplifies a sort of Christian nationalism that bleeds through contemporary politics and a myriad of social structures. 

Jethro Waters nails it again and again and again here. 

Cubas impresses as Stoner, embodying something between grief, PTSD, obsession, and faith. Joel Loftin's Joel complements Stoner perfectly and these two together are remarkable to watch. Valient Thorr frontman Valient Himself makes his film debut in a pretty dazzling way as The Brother and it can't help but make you hope more film roles will come his way. Other impressive turns are made by Christopher Levoy Bower as The Neighbor, Margarita Cranke as Rhoda, and Jessica Hecht for her vocal work as The Mother. 

Truthfully, this whole ensemble is strong. 

Gunfighter Paradise is early in its festival journey. It picked up the Best Film prize at Midwest WeirdFest and has also screened at RiverRun and FilmFest Bremen. Destined to please those who can appreciate the more experimental side of indie cinema, Gunfighter Paradise manages to both be richly entertaining and incredibly thoughtful. There's so much to love here and Gunfighter Paradise is definitely a film to watch for if it arrives at an indie fest near you. Here's hoping it gets picked up by an indie distributor that knows how to market the unique and visionary voice of Jethro Waters. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic