Directors: Powell Robinson, Patrick Robert Young
Notable Cast: Joey Millin, Madison West, Daniel Abraham Stevens
When I found out that the directors of Bastard, a film that I genuinely enjoyed, were directing a DIY road trip thriller on two iPhones, I was already in. Say what you will, but a good gimmick is a good fuckin’ gimmick. Even though the ‘shot on an iPhone’ angle was used in the marketing for Unsane to an insane degree, the idea of an indie film shot on the fly had me hook, line, and sinker. Threshold, which premiered to relatively strong word of mouth on the festival circuit, even drew the attention of Arrow Video, prompting them to give the film a rather impressive Blu Ray release. Not too shabby for an indie thriller.
In the spirit of a shot on iPhones in 12 days on a road trip indie thriller, Threshold is not necessarily the most riveting of films. Limited budgets, time, and tech are always going to force a film toward dramatic heft, performances, and creative outside of the box thinking and that’s exactly what happens with this one. It’s a double-edged sword in its approach, but for viewers with the right mindset, an artistic one that understands the brilliance of what they aim to accomplish, Threshold does deliver a dynamic tale about rekindled familial friendship, belief, and a ‘fuck it, we’re doing it live’ attitude. True to its indie spirit.
Although the basic plot would indicate a more horrific approach, where a brother and sister travel across the country to seek a man bonded to the sister through an evil cult ceremony, the film is far more interested in the human connection between the two leads. Yes, it certainly saves a lot of cash on production values to not show the events leading to this cult ritual, but it also allows the film to address the real heart of its script: belief. Not only is Threshold asking the brother character to set aside past slights and learned behaviors to believe his sister - just for one trip, but it’s asking the audience the same thing. Do you believe? Would you believe? While the entire gaslighting angle is not original, Threshold handles it with a realism that strikes a chord with its characters. The performances are impressively strong, although the script asks for a lot more from Madison West who portrays the sister, and when the film is addressing its active plot elements, it moves swiftly in its execution.
Granted, Threshold takes a few detours - as do all road trips, right? It’s when these detours occur that the film meanders and loses its brisk pace, feeling sluggish. Long takes of their discussions, often shot in a ‘fly on the wall’ manner, feel realistic and natural, but also run long and pull the pacing back. One of the more intriguing side stops, where the brother and sister duo are confronted by a drunk man in a house they’ve rented for the evening, is the tensest and thrilling sequence of the film - yet, doesn’t necessarily add to the overarching plot beyond some character development and one key moment. It’s a fascinating approach to the road trip movie, one where it actively avoids feeling like a series of vignettes. When they do step aside though, it does feel slightly out of place.
Threshold immediately carries that cult classic status with it. It’s not all that shocking that Arrow Video picked up honestly and its gimmicks behind the scenes make for one of those great word of mouth movies. The film leans into its indie tones, playing with pacing and narrative in ways that aim for the moon even if they don’t always land, and where it ends up is fantastic - ending on a tonal beat that’s poignant for its themes and messages. Threshold might not be the most exciting film, but it’s one that owns its quirks and effectively lays them out for its viewers.