Some Highs Are Out of this World. Star Leaf is a sci-fi thriller about an extra-terrestrial form of marijuana discovered in the Olympic forests. The main character is a veteran of the Afghanistan war, and the film has PTSD and its treatment with cannabis as an underlying theme. Shot entirely on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, the movie stars Julian Gavilanes and Russell Hodgkinson of Sy-Fy's Z-Nation.
November 24, 2015
Hugh Berry, Richard Cranor
Julian Gavilanes as James Hunter
Tyler Trerise as Tim Weaver
Shelby Truax as Martha
Richard Cranor as Ranger Dave
What we need in this business is more spirited micro films. Insanely low budget horror features are very common fare. We see them sneak onto VOD and DVD on an absurdly frequent basis. Very few of these features actually offer up much in the way of spirit and effort. It seems a limited budget often comes accompanied by a dearth of exertion. Why? That’s hard to answer, and what answers we could potentially receive probably vary to great lengths. And that’s why the indie films that pop up with no money behind them but a ton of blood, sweat and tears are treasures we need to celebrate to the greatest extent possible. Filmmakers who care about their product deserve to be acknowledged as unique commodities in this business.
Enter Richard Cranor and his latest genre effort, Star Leaf. Which side of the spectrum does Cranor’s feature all on, the inspired or the uninspired? The former, thank the… stars. Sorry, I had nowhere to go with that one.
Not only is Cranor’s picture wildly inspired and oozing effort, it’s a creative enough project to function on a whole lot more than spirit. Star Leaf puts three green performers to the test, as they’re burdened with carrying a film on their shoulders – working with material that could go south with sub-par performances – and creating and sustaining three-way chemistry between three radically different personalities. This isn’t an easy test to pass, but young performers Julian Gavilanes, Tyler Trerise and Shelby Truax rise to the occasion and give viewers something special to soak up.
Before I get too heavy on the praise we should take a moment to break down the idea of the film. Three friends – James, Tim and Martha – are on a road trip. The idea is to get away from the stress of the world and the war, as James suffers from PTSD after some ugly occurrences in combat. What better way to do so than some coastal scenery and surf time? Sounds ideal, until Tim makes the call to insert a brief detour. He’s interested in getting his hands on some Star Leaf, a strain of marijuana that’s said to be literally out of this world, originating from the depths of space, harvested by extraterrestrials and capable of opening some crazy “doorways.” James isn’t too keen on the idea, as he isn’t much of a smoker, but he’s in the backseat, so where Tim goes, Tim goes and that’s about all there is too it. But when these three locate the mysterious farm things go awry in a hurry.
Prior to making their way into the foliage they meet with the strange and mysterious Seth Guardrail Slaughter. Slaughter gives the group specific instructions: No phones, cameras, GPS – nothing that could identify the location of the mystical Star Leaf. Before we know it our focal trio is off to get ridiculously stoned. Maybe ‘ridiculously’ is an understatement, as this weed seems to have an effect on the smoker more akin to LSD than any weed known to man. All three smoke (even James succumbs to the peer pressure), and all three hallucinate – long and hard. The visions they see alter the film’s trajectory, pushing the vibe of the picture and story into horrific territory as they soon find themselves looking to survive a showdown with some menacing aliens. It seems it’s only a matter of time before someone ends up dead… but just how much can you understand about what’s truly happening when you’re out of your mind on some wildly powerful dope?
It’s a fun story that calls to memory the entertaining Irish flick, Shrooms. In fact these two would likely make for a fun double-feature night. There’s a very similar look and feel, and in terms of the onscreen performances, these two are just about even. Speaking of those performances, respect goes out to the whole Star Leaf crew, as everyone does a solid job. Tyler Trerise is lovably goofy as the stoner-in-charge, and Shelby Truax brings an engaging sensuality to the project. Even Cranor himself appears as the kooky forest ranger with the appropriate moniker, Ranger Dave. Julian Gavilanes however, runs away and drags the spotlight with him. His performance isn’t flawless, make no mistake, but it’s an impacting portrayal of an extremely troubled man and Gavilanes deserves big credit for his efforts, which are clearly considerable. The cast is good and they work well together.
The cinematography isn’t evidently ingenious, but we do get some impressive shots, as Cranor (yep, this is a man who wears an awful lot of different hats for this project; it’s clearly his beauty) works interesting angles and speedy transitions, all captured in some appealing scenic locations. There’s an interesting blend of practical special effects and digital, and while you can see the fiscal boundaries the crew faces, the effects as a whole are still solid and respectable. The aliens look cool. The creepy trees and wonderfully creepy. The trip-out sessions are fun to watch. Again, you can see that there isn’t a boatload of money dumped into the film, but that doesn’t hurt it much.
What Star Leaf is is heart and soul (and weed) captured on film, chopped, edited and dressed up in respectable fashion. It’s about strong performances and admirable connections among young performers. It’s about the effects of war, plants, and self-evaluation. It may not sound like the most enlightening flick you’ve seen, but there are a few layers to the movie that are going to surprise you. The fact that Richard Cranor treats the human condition with a lot of respect rather than as an insignificant footnote strikes me as a huge bonus. And he does, he really does respect the character and monumental experiences in the life of the character. This is an aspect of storytelling that often goes undervalued by genre filmmakers, but Cranor isn’t your run-of-the-mill genre filmmaker. This guy has more than promise, he’s got big heart, just like Star Leaf, as a whole.