I knew there was going to be trouble within the first 10 minutes of Koinonia, an independent film directed by Andrew Finnigan and premiering at the Northwest Film Center March 19th.
Koinonia begins well with delicate and ethereal imagery of lush, green forests, serene river streams, and abstract imagery of a bearded man and a woman shrouded in oversaturated sunlight. Couple all this with a nice, ambient score, I was excited and open to what would follow.
The same impressively bearded man carrying a large, camping backpack is shown wandering the forest, and when we begin to question what exactly he is up to, his voice-over begins, unfortunately beginning the first cliche and dull cinematic element that plagues this production. According to John, the bearded man, played by actor Tony Doupe, society has collapsed. A global economic catastrophe fueled this collapse, and with the world’s dollar in ruins, the usual societal mayhem that understandably follows, follows.
Okay, I thought. A post-apocalyptic film with a gravely spoken voice-over explaining the exposition the same way I have heard it told countless times before in this already overplayed genre. I can forgive it. It is just the beginning, and who knows what will follow this.
But then, almost satirically, John does not stop listing the reasons why the world collapsed, which apparently, is quite a laundry list of events. Mass communication ceased because John says there was “no internet.” Something happened with the environment, vaguely explained. Diseases began to ravage the world, and then, we are suppose to believe billions of people died and/or strangely enough just vanished. John abstractly hints at something paranormal, but it is never quite clear.
Regardless, John finds himself alone in this collapsed world, and the real backstory that emotionally and dramatically matters with the film reveals itself with more voice over; John’s wife and child are dead. He is consequently dreadfully lonely, misses human contact, and memories of his family haunt him.
Now, this is all information one can easily gather about John within the first ten minutes of the film. Unfortunately, the other hour and twenty minutes of this movie that we spend almost exclusively alone with John fails to offer any new and compelling insight about him. The result is a vapid and lifeless cinematic experience that left me relieved when it was over, sadly.
Koinonia is a psychological character drama that is way too shallow on both character and drama. It is almost entirely centered on flashbacks with his wife, him alone, or him wandering about in the forest, which is fine, but the problem is, the majority of these flashbacks and scenes are so thematically similar, that the scenes in this film start to feel completely indiscernible from one another. John is tormented because he is alone.
Some scenes stick out though. At one point John hears the sound of a helicopter and chases after it. Another time he is in a house and sees a dead girl in her bedroom. Another instance he plays chess with himself, mimicking his opponent in a charming fashion. But, these moments aren’t powerful enough to hold much interest. Also all the flashbacks with his life before the collapse make John appear to be the most painfully normal dude ever; not really anyone I’d be curious to see what would happen to in a post-apocalyptic setting.
The one guiding plot point and intriguing premise for Koinonia is his search of a mystical and rumored place called Farraday, where survivors like John have apparently gone post-human.
Eventually, after about an hour in, he meets a woman, and though their interactions are somewhat interesting and do make the movie a bit better as something different is finally happening, this development could have come sooner.
On a basis of cinematography, I would say it is pleasing, but it is also entirely banking on the beauty of the Northwest that we all already appreciate, and after a while even these landscape shots wear thin when one quickly realizes that the majority of these shots do the same trick time and time again: The shot begins with a shallow focus on some object in the background, like a leaf or a tree, and slowly this focus is shifted to another different object in the foreground, and because it’s the forest, that object is another leaf of tree.
So, being completely honest, the movie did not sustain my attention at all. But maybe the problem is with me here. When I think about how many flashbacks there were, certainly there had to have been revelations about John that say something compelling. There is one memory in particular that seems to be from the same day and maybe this is a key element to his character, but this particular scene is so darkly lit that I can literally barely see what is happening.
The one quality I can praise is the performance of actor Tony Doupe. It is an understated and authentic performance, and he is one of those actors that make it look like he is not acting, which is no easy feat. I just wish the script allowed him more of a chance to reveal something about his character other than that he’s hungry, lonely and sad.
Look, it truly bums me out to produce a negative review. Koinonia could have very easily been a short film, and maybe even a good one, but what I saw did not really justify a feature length running time. There were certain moments that could have been something if their potential was not castrated between scenes that again, said the same thing about John over and over again.
The more time that passes between when I watched this film, the less I remember. It made little to no impression on me. I do not want to discourage this filmmaker from continuing to make movies. Nor am I really adamant that this movie was as dull as I perceived it to be. I could be really off in this review and just caught it at the wrong time, and if you are the type of cinema-goer where a slow character drama is appealing and was looking forward to this, ironically like myself, do not allow this review to stop you.