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The Independent Critic

Erin Breen, Deneen Melody, Tom Lodewyck, Anthony Fleming III, Daniel Kuhlman
Daniel Kuhlman, Brian Kilborn
Dan Kuhlman (Writer), Deneen Melody (Creator)
32 Mins.

 "Rose White" a Grim Fairy Tale of Truth and Fantasy 
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I am not, by nature, a believer in happy endings.

Life isn't a fairy tale, or at least not the version of a fairy tale we so often find escaping from the clutches of the Disney machine.

Frogs don't turn into princes.

The peasant girl doesn't become a princess.

Oh, and there's almost never a truly happy ending.

In this remarkably grim yet breathtakingly beautiful fairy tale, truth and fantasy become irrevocably woven together in a tale inspired by the Grimm Brothers' Snow-White and Rose-Red. Rose White is a devastatingly handsome 30-minute short film the notions of purity and evil come face-to-face in ways both tender and terrifying. The film is set in a gritty urban world where the only fantasies that get played are likely those bought and paid for by a junkie spending fifteen minutes with some two-bit hooker with a painted on heart of gold.

In this film, though, there is a delusional heart of gold personified by Lilly (Deneen Melody), whose purity and vulnerability are fiercely protected by her sister, Rosalyn (Erin Breen), a sympathetic bitch of a soul who has been forced to take up prostitution in order to maintain the household while caring for her sister. The two nearly lost souls find an unlikely ally in Bear (Daniel Kuhlman), a local drug addict who isn't exactly a sympathetic character but who still manages to gain the sympathy of Rosalyn. Rosalyn and Bear concoct a plan to deal with a vicious crime boss (Tom Lodewyck).

The plan might set them free.

It might not.

Co-directed by Kuhlman with Brian Kilborn, Rose White is a mesmerizing film largely on the strength of its stellar casting and a relentless devotion to the not so peaceful co-existence of truth and fantasy. It's fascinating to see how Kuhlman and Kilborn weave both fantasy into reality and reality into fantasy, not always comfortably but, quite honestly, that's part of the joy of the film. At their most authentic, the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales were never meant to be comfortably stories about childhood fantasies and such. In fact, quite the opposite was true. The Grimm Brothers, almost to a frightening degree, painted stories that reflected the truth about life in magical and mystical ways that transcended their grittier foundations. You need not stretch far at all to read a Grimms' Fairy Tale and find stark and disturbing stories about violence and incest and racism and other despairing social commentaries.

The cast and crew of Rose White have clearly tapped into the grim spirit of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, painting a tale deceptively pure yet relentlessly brutal and almost achingly jarring in tone and vision. It helps, of course, to have two gifted actresses carrying the co-leads in Deneen Melody and Erin Breen.

Melody has the challenge of portraying the complexity within a character who is seemingly quite simple. Watching where Melody goes as Lilly is an almost hypnotic experience. Melody, who is credited as creator of this story penned by Kuhlman, takes what could have easily been your stereotypical dimwitted debutante victim at the mercy of everyone and everything who surrounds her. However, Melody has never been a lazy actress and she turns Lilly's somewhat symbolic purity into both a prize to be captured and a goal to be achieved. There is so much bubbling underneath the surface of Melody's performance that it's nearly impossible to not squirm while watching her story unfold.

The same is true for Erin Breen, whose performance is certainly less pure but no less complex and multi-layered than that of Deneen Melody. Breen is simply magnificent as Rosalyn, whose early scenes don't begin to reveal the layers of emotion and life experience that have all added up to create the present day Rosalyn. Breen somehow manages to turn this seemingly jaded prostitute into so much more.

As Bear, Daniel Kuhlman manages to attract just the right amount of sympathy that makes us want to go along for the ride, while Tom Lodewyck shines as Little Man and Anthony Fleming III does a nice job as Wolf. In a relatively brief appearance, Valerie Meachum does an excellent job of planting the cinematic seeds for the entire film. Kudos must also be given to Ann Marie Boska and Brooke Lodewyck, whose performances as the younger Rosalyn and Lilly not only leave a terrific impression but also maintain a strong consistency with their adult counterparts.

D.P. Jeremy Kuhlman lenses the film beautifully, giving Rose White a look that exudes both gothic fantasy and urban reality. Matt Novack's original score for the most part leans towards fantasy, an approach that provides a bit of a stylish flare to the film's sound mix. Especially in the film's waning moments, Novack's score seems to pulsate against the action that's being revealed.

Rose White is currently on the film festival circuit and should have no difficulty securing a long life amongst both indie and horror fests. With mesmerizing visuals, an intelligent and emotionally resonant story, and strong performances from the entire ensemble cast, Rose White may not promise you a happy ending but it sure as hell does promise you an absolutely terrific 30 minutes in the theater.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic