Writer: Juli Blachowiac
Director: Scott Lazer
West by God is the latest of Scott Lazer’s compelling 11-minute shorts. Where his documentary Visitors offered a wide-angled, wide-eyed glimpse of believers in extra-terrestrial life descending on the Nevada desert, Mango was a claustrophobic, pacy fiction about a woman’s secret erotic life, captured in the tiny frame of a smart phone.
In West by God, Lazer again uses cinematographer Taylor McIntosh to create an evocative portrait, this time of small-town white America in his home state of West Virginia. It’s summer at a water-park. Far off are the undifferentiated sounds of kids at a swimming pool. Close to, a little boy slithers round the curve of a water slide, disappearing out of shot. Two teenager girls sneer about a boy. ‘Nelly, are you listening?’ one asks. ‘No,’ Nelly responds placidly, as the camera rests on her face. In fact Nelly (a strong performance by Aphrodite Armstrong) will do a lot of listening in this story, showing a range of thoughtful, almost Mona-Lisa-like expressions. She’s asked on a date by Dane (Kyle Riggs), a local drug dealer. There is a shiver of tension as deep sinister beats thud inside his car.
Eating at a local lakeside diner, he comments on her silence: ‘You text louder than you speak’. But he seems appreciative: perhaps he’s not predatory? Then he assumes an aggressive persona as does a low-rent drug deal. In the central scene, Nelly and Dane sit contentedly by the lake, Dane warning her against drugs and alcohol. He shares a track of Immortal Technique, ‘Dance with the Devil,’ to explain his feelings, weeping quietly at its raw tragedy. Strangely, ‘Dance with the Devil’ uses Francis Lai’s plangent theme from Love Story. Is West by God simply a sweet love story. Or, as the film hints, does Nelly have secrets too?
West by God had its World Premiere at Berlinale and will have its North American premiere in the Narrative Shorts Competition section at SXSW in March.