South of 8 (2016) [San Diego Film Week 2017]

In the near future, during the second great depression, an ex-con joins a duo of burgeoning bank thieves as there are no jobs and he needs to survive.  At the same time, a resistance movement grows fast and a group of female criminals is causing mayhem.  As things take a more serious and more violent turn for all involved, the authorities are closing in on them. In writer/director Tony Olmos’ first feature film a few years ago, the story may be a bit exaggerated but it will feel close to what may become reality to some.  The story is set in the San Diego area amid racial and class issues, political problems, and an upswing in crime during the second great depression.

This grim future is something that will feel prophetic to some and like science-fiction to others.  Either way, the film’s story is properly dystopian while staying close to reality.  Olmos’ writing and directing shows where the world could easily head if a new great depression happened while creating characters that work within this mainframe and make you care about them even as none of them are actually “good” people.  Here the lines are blurred as most characters populating South of 8 are heavily flawed to flat out bad people but the viewer ends up caring about them.

These characters are played by a cast of locals with varying levels of experience and backgrounds.  As the director indicated at the post screening Q&A, a lot of improvising of lines was done, giving actors more freedom in how they interpreted their characters.  The robber team composed of Ryan Bertrand, Victor Vasquez, and Lori Randolph are played by Brian Patrick Butler, George Jac, and Kathryn Schott respectively with each giving a good performance.  Butler and Jac get the most to do and express compared with Schott but this does not mean that they do not all do good work.  Butler does come off as the star with a bit of a stronger screen presence, keeping the attention pretty much no matter who else he’s sharing the screen with.  Also doing quality work is Jennifer Paredes as conflicted Emma, she brings a softer side to the proceedings while also showing strength

Another strong, but quite differently so, female presence is Raye Richards as Lola 5, a badass, a killer lady who basically steals the show while she’s on screen.  The rest of the cast also does well with just a few midly off-feeling performances that do not detract from the rest. The story and performances are good and carry the film.  However, the film has a few issues, mostly visual ones.  The scenes go from being well shot to having framing, lighting, and focus issues then back to good, there is a constant back and forth between the two, as if shot by two completely different teams with different levels of experience and capabilities.  Also problematic, but to a lesser degree, are the visual effects.  The CHI blood, gunshots, and fire power work at times but mostly do not which is quite unfortunate.  This is one of those cases where keeping some or most of it off-screen would have done wonders for the final product.

The film’s score and soundtrack are another positive point being very strong.  The score by Sergio Corona and writer/director Tony Olmos is moody, atmospheric, and very fitting for the film, its story, and the settings.  The songs on the soundtrack by Somerset Barnard, Freedom Fries, Mother Mary Mood, and Spero fit the film and their respective scenes.  The music and songs chosen work very well and show how a good audio and visual match can help a film a lot in establishing mood and feelings.

South of 8 is a film that shows a ton of potential from its writer/director, cast, and crew.  There are issues of course but the story, directing, acting, and music are good, giving the audience plenty to love.  All the potential shown here will make audiences want to see what this team’s next project is.