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Millstone (2023)

2023 SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW!


Mike (Daniel Durant) and Julia (Bellamie Bachleda) are struggling after having lost their son. Since he’s passed, the couple can’t seem to find common ground, and they are on the verge of losing themselves and their marriage as a result. They are at their wits end, but they may just have found the one person that can solve their problems. Dr. Prince (Eddie Buck) has a new, experimental treatment that has the potential to fix the pieces of them that are broken. Millstone is a story of new beginnings.


Millstone contains an all-deaf cast, and the entire film is shot in American Sign Language–and while I believe that this is incredibly inclusive (even noble) of Writer-Director Peter Hoffman Kimball–it poses some problems for some viewers. Throughout the entirety of Millstone, I was dead focused on the subtitles. I appreciate subtitles, and I almost always have them on to help supplement the spoken dialogue–but I struggled to pay attention to things other than the subtitles from time to time throughout Millstone–and, to some degree, that hinders the film. I wish that I was better able to watch the actors, to appreciate the cinematography, among other things, but those things take a backseat to the subtitles. Of course I noticed the wonderful intricacies of Millstone, but I wasn’t quite able to give them the attention that they deserved. Please don’t mistake this as a criticism–but it would be unfair of me not to express my struggles.

The narrative is brilliantly twisted, and as Millstone progresses, that narrative strengthens and becomes more and more entertaining. What initially begins as a powerful drama turns into something more thrilling, far more mysterious, and infinitely more engaging. The film doesn’t have a lot of time to develop, and pacing is incredibly important in this situation. Too fast, and the film loses all meaning–too slow, and the big reveal doesn’t have enough time to come alive. Kimball finds the perfect balance in Millstone, delivering lines and plot twists at the perfect time. HIs timing is impeccable, and that helps to create a hard-hitting emotional thriller.


The three characters, Mike, Julia, and Dr. Prince, sit across from one another throughout the duration of the film. They sit in a small room, having a dark conversation–and while we watch them converse, there isn’t much wiggle room at all for the camera. The entire film is conducted like an interview with over the shoulder shots, limiting the viewpoint of viewers, confining them to one specific point of view throughout Millstone. The intimacy of the cinematography allows the emotions present in the film to be more prominent and easier to appreciate. Director of Photography Lidia Marukyan finds ways to keep viewers confined and focused, while constantly wondering what’s coming next, what lies around the corner.


Due to the fact that the entirety of Millstone is guided by American Sign Language (and, as a result, subtitles), Music Supervisor Paul Weichselbaum is tasked with creating something that supports at all times and that has no chance of competing with or hindering the dialogue. Some people are able to listen to music and read at the same time with success–I’m not one of those people (and I exist within a community that struggles like I do). The dialogue is paired beautifully with a simple, but impressive score. The score helps to guide the film, and it sits behind the dialogue and the characters, supplementing them every step of the way.


There’s one issue with Millstone, and it’s really not even an issue about the film and more of my issue. The dialogue paired with the subtle and effective score creates something emotionally relevant and accessible. And the acting, as if anyone could have thought otherwise, is wonderful and captivating. With the way in which Kimball paces his beautiful, dark film, Millstone is headed toward success from the opening moments–and success is ultimately found.


Written & Directed by Peter Hoffman Kimball.


Starring Daniel Durant, Eddie Buck, & Bellamie Bachleda.


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/10


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