REVIEW: Below the Fold [2021]

Rating: 6 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 92 minutes
    Release Date: November 23rd, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Mutiny Pictures
    Director(s): Clayton Scott
    Writer(s): Clayton Scott

Nothing can be done.


A sleepy Missouri newspaper is struggling to find stories besides puff pieces about local relations vying for the latest tractor pull championship. Having the ten-year anniversary of an unsolved disappearance case coming up shortly after the victim’s mother passed with a wish to keep her daughter’s memory alive is thus a blessing for the printed page since it means David Fremont (Davis DeRock) can knock on some doors and conduct some substantive interviews for once … even if he knows he probably won’t learn anything new. Cold cases like these in places like Skidmore don’t generally thaw. If the community wouldn’t talk then, they’re not going to talk now. What David forgets, however, is the victim’s age. Her friends are twenty now. Hindsight and maturity can jog memories.

It’s a realization that falls into David and partner Lisa Johnson’s (Sarah McGuire) lap at the start of Clayton Scott‘s Below the Fold. She’s just started at the paper, but the two have a long history together—one interrupted these past three years for reasons that will later be made clear despite them not really impacting the plot. Would Cassie Gilland (Tobi Omodehinde) have come forward to clandestinely supply David a lead if he were the only one going door-to-door? Maybe. Or perhaps she saw Lisa and believed something might change after ten years of men doing nothing to uncover what happened. Either way, Lisa latches on with enough determination to risk her new job in pursuit of answers. Is it personal? Or simply conducive to additional drama?

I’ll admit a lot of my intrigue in Scott’s story originated with hope in the former. There’s something about Lisa’s past that seems hidden—something that might have influenced her leaving David without saying goodbye. It kept me invested because her returning to town after all this time seemed like the bigger mystery. The Susan Potter case (which eventually spills over into the Jessica Mercer case) always feels like a catalyst rather than the point. Maybe it’s a matter of romance between David and Lisa pairing off again or maybe it’s some darker truth where Lisa can’t help but take every sexual assault case to heart in a way that goes beyond simple morality. I was driven to see how far she’d go and whether David would follow.

While we do get a little of that, however, it’s less to do with Lisa’s psychology than it is to push the procedural through-line of catching a killer forward. Scott does well to mix in several possible suspects with equally creepy demeanors (Rick Daniels‘ squirrely Jeff Darrach, Scott Lucas‘ deceptive Pastor Donovan, and local numbskulls Ed and Adam Henry as played by James Theriac and Alec Ware) to keep us guessing, but nothing you haven’t seen before or strong enough to call your first guess into question. Lisa’s tenacity gets us to the point where all these men become persons of interest, but it also risks jeopardizing the truth through impulsive overreach. It’s why David must constantly remind her that they aren’t cops. And libel won’t help anyone.

Her desire to keep pushing is therefore proven to be all about adding drama. And while it leads us to a somewhat anticlimactic end (although its gray area would be a welcome road to travel with increased purpose), the journey isn’t without its successes. There’s only so much you can do with a budget of this size—and those limitations are present in many aspects of the whole—but we do care about the leads and want them to come out the other side with something substantial. Them being the only ones in this town who still care is reason enough because those involved and those who were present learned to be complacent about the ordeal. If it happened again today, they’ll probably forget to make the connection.

That becomes the real motive here: remembrance. That and knowing when to pick a fight and when to bare your teeth. David has grown complacent himself with assignments that demand little journalistic initiative, so having Lisa’s impassioned perseverance by his side really jogs him awake in a sense. And she’s been spiraling down a dark chasm of obsession wherein her judgment seems forever compromised by her appetite for justice. The fact that these two achieve more concrete progression than the case would mean more if this were the first episode of a miniseries, though, rather than the entirety of the story. Below the Fold‘s main failure is thus that it ends when it finally starts getting good. It’s wall-to-wall exposition. An appetizer without a main course.

My being sad I can’t tune in next week to see how everything turns out does say something about the quality of the story, though. Just because the execution leaves something to be desired doesn’t mean I wasn’t in it for the duration. Where David and Lisa go and what they do is authentically drawn and their disparate personalities are a consistent force behind those actions. You can only watch so many interviews, however, without anticipating something more explosive for payoff. That’s to not say an open-ended climax attempting to put society on trial as much as a predator can’t be explosive. You simply still need a victor to do it. Stalemates are about getting us ready for what comes next. They don’t satisfactorily conclude what just happened.


photography:
courtesy of Mutiny Pictures

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