Macon Review: “How We Got Away With It” (****)

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McCaleb Burnett and Cassandra Freeman star in “How We Got Away With It”

You never know what you are going to get at film festivals. Programmers try to put personal taste aside and schedule quality films that appeal to the variety of people attending. Oftentimes, a real stinker sneaks into the lineup and diminishes the impact of the entire festival. Sometimes, however, films find their way into the programming and you wonder why such a polished, beautiful film hasn’t already shored up national distribution. “How We Got Away With It” is certainly the latter– a sharp, visually striking thriller with abundant commercial appeal. The film marks Emmy-nominated soap opera star Jon Lindstrom’s feature debut as director, writer and producer.

Set on the shores of Lake Ontario, a group of thirtysomethings are reunited for their annual summer weekend trip. As the host encounters an unexpected tragedy, his response and the involvement of the others weighs heavily on the group; each member struggling to confront their own circumstance. “How We Got Away With It” comes together like a jigsaw puzzle– pieces slowly building segments, the edges quickly closing in, the full picture incomplete until the final piece has been laid. Only one expository moment exists in the film– and it drops like a bomb. The revelation and emotional impact of the moment might immediately seem too strong for a film that has so far only presented clues, but ultimately, life works in the same way. A careful screenplay, written by stars Jeff Barry and McCaleb Burnett and given a second look by Lindstrom, makes for a well-tailored and tight mystery.

Director Jon Lindstrom stars as Arlen Becker

Filmmakers Barry, Burnett and Lindstrom are standouts in a particularly strong ensemble. Mikal Evans, Cassandra Freeman, Jacob Knoll, Brianne Moncrief and Luke Robertson round out the gang, each bringing a casual accord that fits the group’s atmosphere. Richard Bekins also appears, making the most of his role as the suspended antagonist. It’s hard to single out best in show honors from such an evenly talented and sympathetic cast, but Barry draws the most attention in his scenes.

The film’s greatest strengths rest in the beautiful aesthetics captured in the Rochester beach community. The resourcefulness of Barry, Lindstrom and company makes for exceptional settings and the photography by Michael Belcher accentuates the cool grays, hunter greens and navy blues of the temperate destination. It is impossible to tell that this film was made on such a small budget.

“How We Got Away With It” premiered at the Macon Film Festival and already has more festivals lined up. While you won’t find an established movie star in the cast (yet), this film possesses everything it needs to be an arthouse hit. I imagine it won’t be long before a distributor snatches this up and takes it to your nearby cinema.

4 out of 5 stars.
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