Gaby Dellal's Angels Crest opens with the laughter of children at play, but that’s the only hint of happiness you’ll find in this unflinchingly manipulative and pointless morality play. The rest of Dellal’s Montana-set drama is a meandering symphony of suffering unlike any other in recent cinema. Snow-packed exteriors and a tediously somber musical score constantly flood the frame, making every scene feel like variations on the same funeral procession. Essentially, each one of the film’s tortured characters is an emotional zombie who specializes in public breakdowns, and we’re privy to their collective battle for community drama queen.
It’s a foregone conclusion that tragedy will strike when single father Ethan (Thomas Dekker) takes his young son Nate (Ameko Eks Mass Carroll) into the mountains for a day in the snow. The trip begins as a typical family outing, but a herd of passing deer mysteriously lures Ethan away into the forest (we’re never sure why), allowing Nate to escape his “fool-proof” child safety seat and wander off into the frigid wilderness. One melodramatic search party later, Ethan, his alcoholic ex-wife, Cindy (Lynn Collins), and all their friends and neighbors are spellbound by tragedy. To say the discovery of Nate’s frozen body is an expected moment would be an understatement.
From there Angels Crest strategically and relentlessly uses Nate’s death to splinter the narrative and examine other conflicted souls dealing with various emotional maladies. Ethan’s best friend Rusty (Joseph Morgan), who feels guilty because a morning tryst with Cindy made him late to the aforementioned search party, is just one of the many supporting characters populating Dellal’s mosaic of contrivance. Other similarly inane threads develop, including a dim subplot involving an equally guilt-ridden district attorney, Jack (Jeremy Piven), who begins a half-assed investigation of Ethan’s suspect parenting skills that leads exactly nowhere.
Even worse, Duball tries to inject aesthetic urgency into the droll storyline by sporadically over-cutting scenes using nonlinear editing techniques. These sudden bursts of style are equally dumbfounding and ill-conceived, especially considering the blatantly one-dimensional material at hand. Lengthy monologues about “terrible fathers” and moral complexities abound, pushing Ethan even closer to his ultimate crescendo of self-serving sacrifice. In the end, Angels Crest and its insufferable characters make sure we know how clearly all of this heartache and suffering has been so fatefully ordained.