Throughout Buck Run, we are privy to occasional VHS home movies, depicting a father and son hunting deer. Often in this footage, beyond the shaky camera and analog aesthetic, we get glimpses into the familial dynamic of the two. The father is recording everything, but the majority of his focus is not so much on the event he's supposed to capture, but either directly participating in the hunt and subsequently/awkwardly holding the camera cockeyed, or stubbornly (and perhaps subconsciously) avoiding any form of contact with his child. His son, meanwhile, is struggling with the concept and local reality of deer season, coyly and hesitantly - with much visible anxiety - approaching a killed animal. Is he feeling the stress of taking a life? How about living up to the understood idea of manhood put forth by the community? Or even earing pride in his father's mind?
Directed by Nick Frangione, Buck Run is the story of estrangement, emotional trauma, and how men - young and old - deal with grief. The son in the home movies is now the 15-year-old Shaw (Nolan Lyons), living with his very sick mother, acting as her caretaker and the head of the house, despite being too young for such a role and too anti-social. And desperate for respite. We see twice, from different angles and at different points in the film, his discovery of and response to his mother's deceased body, laying off of her bed, halfway on the floor. "Mommy! Mommy!" he repeats, huddled and seated against the wall, reverting back to a toddler-like state, with only the visage of her cold/wrinkled hand visible to us.
Shaw acts out in frustration and high tension on the streets of his rural Pennsylvania town - a place that's God-fearing, blue-collar, scrapped together, and economically depressed - leading him in the care of his father William, played by James LeGros. A recovering but not so sober alcoholic, living in a rundown "home" in the woods, friended by a similarly lonely hunting hobbyist and purveyor of amateur prostitutes, William's gruff, gravel-voiced, and removed demeanor doesn't win any favors with the son who resents him. When introduced, William is sleeping hard on his couch (which may be his "bed"), waking up to answer the call that'll inform him about his son. A wedding ring is clearly in sight on his finger, but also somewhat obscured, almost to exclaim his attachment to the former family he belonged to, while establishing the hopeless and sad nature of his life and inability to move back or move on.
LeGros is an absolute stand-out here. To the jukebox tunes of "Loser" by 3 Doors Down at a bar, where he swallows away his sorrows and passes the time, other denizens populate around him, finding comfort with one another in spite of little to no opportunities for progression in the low-income region. He tries to fit in, but is steadfast in just being quietly pathetic and airing out a facade of strength. With the calm intensity of Tom Waits and the soul-piercing eyes of Tom Hardy, LeGros gives a breath of life and relatable attitude to someone who doesn't do well with expressing emotional nuance; his only modes are absolute stillness and extreme tear-filled mood swings that end with him writhing on his dirty floor.
Buck Run isn't altogether satisfying or purely cathartic, but neither is life after loss. Things don't so much resolve or end but rather settles with begrudged compromise and ambiguously felt futures. A question than an answer. A challenge than comfort. Within the grey skies, unkempt roads, seedy and sad predicaments, and the uncaring of the Universe as a whole, father and son are left with each other, and each other only. This is a film of repeated cycles of relationship behavior, of predictable responses from people who won't or can't change, and of the achingly slow process of forgiveness, bonding, and positive steps forward. Nothing is guaranteed to get better. In fact, it likely won't.
But, at least there's someone nearby to drown in mediocrity and sadness with you.
That's... comforting? Kind of.
RATING: 3.5 / 5