Suggesting Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood but without the gallows humor or eye for regional detail, Robert Saitzyk’s Godspeed is a purposefully unaffected tale of a modern-day faith healer, Charlie Shepard (Joseph McKelheer), who struggles with his belief in God after his wife and son’s murders. Early on, Aitzyk shows his characters interlocked in a sort of cosmic crisis when their fates converge as the Northern Lights appear overhead, but he otherwise doesn’t indulge his more operatic impulses. Save for the cameos by Aurora Borealis and Mt. McKinley, you wouldn’t even know this is Alaska for all the time Saitzyk spends absorbing the unique habits of people living in Palin country.
Much attention, though, is paid to Charlie’s struggle with his faith, and Godspeed really gets to the heart of Charlie’s grief when it focuses on the man crazily blacking out passages from the Bible, looking for meaning where he feels there is none—at least anymore. A pretty redhead, Sarah (Courtney Halverson), whose mother was once helped—or hurt, if you ask her brother Luke (co-writer Cory Knauf)—by Charlie convinces him to come to the aid of her father, no longer himself after her mother’s death, but does so with an unnerving show of seduction that speaks to the attachment the saved often develop for their saviors.
The script’s slightly off-kilter fixation on spiritual belief and trauma (specifically how differently the characters interpret and respond to Charlie’s capacity for healing), coupled with its stubborn refusal to reveal what the preacher promised or actually did for Luke and Sarah’s mother, is fascinating—though slightly undermined by Knauf’s overcooked performance. But in its committed, sometimes ferocious, grounding of its characters’ pain and rage, the film loses sight of the geographic relationship to personal torment, so that the remote Alaskan setting becomes, like a few supporting characters, completely beside the point—just a stretch of sinister landscape on which to stage a climax. In the end, stylistic atrophy gets the better of the film’s notable thematic interests.