Wintry upstate New York is the setting for this drama about a group of fuck-ups weaving the proverbial tangled web. Hoping to cash in on an inheritance, Sierra (Margaret Burkwit) and her husband Andrew (Darien Sills-Evans) arrive at her mother’s home only to discover Jeannette (Pamela Holden Stewart) and her companion Martin (Wayne Lamont Sims) festering in the juices of pent-up resentments: Because the gay Martin is unable to satisfy her sexually, Jeannette takes to embarrassing him whenever she’s drunk on the hooch, which consists of telling a group of people that he likes it when white men fuck him in the ass and call him a “nigger”; presumably out of sympathy and gratitude for being his patron, confidant, and savior, Martin takes the abuse in stride. Attractive looking for a feature shot on video with a budget of $5,000, The Reception‘s Spartan aesthetic allows director John G. Young to really tap into the story’s numerously painful racial and sexual hot zones. Characters sometimes ask each other questions they should already know the answers to (Sierra may be estranged from Jeannette, but does she really not know why she didn’t go to live with her mother after her parents divorced?) and the parallels between the two couples are a bit tidy, but Young has a gift for peeling away layers of deceit, interestingly allowing the dynamic between Sierra and Andrew’s relationship to serve as a context for Jeannette and Martin’s own—like mother like daughter, so to speak. And while Holden Stewart often sounds like a belligerent French Yoda (“He’s changed me Martin has,” Jeannette tells Sierra on the way to the supermarket), the performances are top-notch, especially by Sills-Evans and Sims, whose characters are shackled to their women in more ways than one. The politics may be loaded but the film is scarcely angry: Pain and resentment is equal across the white-black spectrum but everyone holds themselves accountable for their willful enslavement, ultimately choosing freedom instead of further emotional captivity. A more apt title for the film, then, might have been The Liberation.
This is a rudimentary video and audio presentation, but given that the film was shot on digital video over eights days on a budget of $5,000 it's probably unreasonable to expect much better. If anything, the look and sound only enhances the authenticity of the story's raw and gritty display of emotions.
The commentary track by director John G. Young and stars Pamela Holden Stewart and Darien Sills-Evans should be most useful to bourgeoning guerilla filmmakers wanting to make the best out of a low budget. The actors were naturally attracted to the screenplay's incendiary political and sexual baggage and Young reveals himself to be an expert at cheating emotions in the editing room, talking about how he used a jump cut in one scene to augment the tension between Stewart and Wayne Lamont Sims's characters. Rounding out the disc is a theatrical trailer for the film and other Strand Releasing titles.
The Reception welcomes us with a punch in the gut.