Let's just start off with the basics.
Daniel Kremer's nearly 3-hour "existential epic neo-noir" Overwhelm the Sky is one of 2019's best motion pictures, an ambitious, thoughtful, and beautifully constructed film that proves, once and for all, that masterful things can happen within the realm of micro-budget cinema when immense talent, hard work, and creative collaboration all weave themselves together.
Kremer, director of such films as Raise Your Kids on Seltzer and Ezer Kenegdo, has crafted a film that is a loving tribute to his longtime mentor, Oscar-winning production designer Paul Sylbert (Kramer vs. Kramer, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), for whom Kremer served as a longtime teaching assistant at Temple University and who passed away not long before Kremer began production on this remarkable achievement that sure would have made Sylbert proud.
Loosely adapted from Charles Brockden Brown's 1799 novel "Edgar Huntly, or Memoirs of a Sleepwalker," Overwhelm the Sky tells the story of Edgar "Eddie" Huntly (Alexander Hero), an east coast radio personality who moves to San Francisco to marry Thea (Nima Slone), the sister of his best friend Neil (Deniz Demirer). Shortly before his arrival, Neil is found murdered in Golden Gate Park, a murder attributed by police to a simple mugging having gone awry. As Eddie steps in as an interim host for old friend Dean's (Kris Caltagirone) radio show, he becomes increasingly obsessed with the forested spot where Neil's body had been found and begins making regular visits to the location. It's one such visit that unleashes a series of unpredictable events sending Eddie crashing into the life of a sleepwalking drifter with a mysterious past.
Overwhelm the Sky is filmed in pristine, visually arresting black-and-white by Aaron Hollander and features a jarring, disjointed yet emotionally resonant original score by Costas Dafnis and Mike Werner that churns out mystery and envelopes you in its aura. The film, seen by this critic in its standard, non-roadshow format, has maintained Kremer's artistic integrity though he has somewhat begrudgingly also cut a 124-minute version of the film that will, sadly, make it easier to program at some fests.
Trust me, this version or the even slightly lengthier roadshow version is definitely the way to go.
Overwhelm the Sky, which is Kremer's seventh feature film, premiered at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival and continues Kremer's long history of creating thought-provoking, immensely involving films on budgets that leave you gasping for air wondering "How can he possibly do that?"
It starts, of course, with the ways in which Kremer surrounds himself with immensely talented people and, it would seem, allows himself to become both student and teacher. Kremer's ensemble cast here is remarkably strong, far transcending that which we usually expect within the world of low-budget indies. At the center, Alexander Hero gives a remarkable performance as Eddie, embodying the man with a swirling array of loss, grief, curiosity, anger, determination and much more. He's a mysterious man and that mystery helps to give Overwhelm the Sky a sense of mystery and intrigue that is fueled by the film's plot-driven twists and turns and unpredictabilities.
Overwhelm the Sky is a film that runs nearly three hours yet you simply won't find yourself looking at your watch.
If you do? Well, okay. Just head on back to the multiplex and watch your superhero flicks.
Overwhelm the Sky is, indeed, probably not a film for more casual moviegoers. What starts off as a sort of noirish tinged mystery with a core of grief becomes much more as the script takes directions you won't quite expect and Kremer pulls off these detours with supreme confidence and yet in such a way that they always feel honest, authentic and truly driven by the needs of the story scripted by Kremer along with Aaron Hollander and Alexander Hero. While this film likely qualifies as one of Kremer's most narratively cohesive, those who favor Hollywood's point A to point B storytelling may not resonate with Kremer's more adventurous storytelling and filmmaking.
There is simply so much to love about Overwhelm the Sky, yet it's a film that is best experienced and to describe even particular scenes that left me exasperated emotionally and intellectually feels unjust. It's so incredibly clear that Hollander's camera was in perfect sync with Kremer's vision for the film and, indeed, every aspect of production falls perfectly in line with the story that unfolds. Even Dana Glidden accomplishes wonders creating visual effects for the film despite the inherent budgetary challenges.
Truly, a remarkable effort across the board from cast and crew.
Overwhelm the Sky is early in its festival run and is definitely a film to catch if it shows up at a festival near you. It will demand your full-on attention, but that full-on attention will be rewarded tenfold.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic