Small Town Murder Songs is a one-of-a-kind meditation on tortured souls
Starring Peter Stormare, Martha Plimpton, and Jill Hennessy. Unrated. Opens Friday, July 8, at the Vancity Theatre
Little is explained but much is felt in Small Town Murder Songs, which really does feature musical numbers, delivered loud but off-screen by composer Bruce Peninsula and a rough chorus of dirt-gospel singers.
This may sound like a precious conceit, but there’s nothing sweetly contrived about this one-of-a-kind movie, which is more of a meditation on tortured souls than a crime drama. The chief torturee in its remote Ontario town happens to be the local sheriff, called Walter and played by Swedish actor Peter Stormare—not a million miles from his silent killer in Fargo.
Walter is in seeming exile from the Dutch and German Mennonite communities dominating the surrounding farmland. He attends a born-again church and has recently married a nice, ordinary waitress (played superbly by Martha Plimpton), presumably to calm unspecified demons. We know this from the opaque, slow-motion flashbacks we’re given by writer-director Ed Gass-Donnelly, who here trades in his theatre background for a stark, highly controlled visual style.
Apparently, Walter previously beat someone senseless, and it had something to do with his former hot-stuff girlfriend (Law & Order’s underused Jill Hennessy), now shacked up with a snaggle-toothed druggie (Stephen Eric McIntyre) who hates Walter’s guts. When a nude body shows up by the river, our bespectacled sheriff connects the crime to his rival, and it’s hard to determine whether this is evidence or animus talking. The big-city detective (Ari Cohen) brought in to examine the case decides that Walter’s involvement is tainted. But is it?
The mystery isn’t resolved in the usual sense, and some viewers may be perplexed when the tale stops at around 70 minutes. But the overlapping textures of religion, fear, heart-thumping music, and small-town character study help push this movie under your skin—where it will stay longer than you expect.
Watch the trailer for Small Town Murder Songs.