“Tigers don’t change their stripes,” Dennis Lotz (Scott Friend) tells his wife Mia (Madeleine Morgenweck) of his estranged older brother Roger (Will Brill) in writer/director Friend’s feature debut To The Moon. Vacationing upstate for the weekend at a remote lakeside summer house built by Dennis’ late grandfather, the couple hopes for some time together to reconnect with each other, but wake after their first night to find that Roger is there too, a conspicuously single third wheel dressed in a striking yellow boiler suit – and while Mia is delighted finally to meet her brother-in-law and charmed by his hippy-dippy eccentricities, Dennis, who remembers well that his brother “used to be such a malevolent person when we were younger”, is put constantly on edge by Roger’s weird presence, and is sceptical about Roger’s supposed transformation into “this new persona.”
Dennis himself is struggling to change his stripes. A television and movie actor of some small renown, he is also a self-destructive junkie, and this retreat from the City is an attempt – not his first – to get clean. Mia too is damaged, both from a leg injury that has suspended her career as a competition figure skater, and from the trauma of a recent miscarriage. So despite loving each other “to the moon”, this husband and wife have a lot of mending to do, ideally together. For this, Mia has her pyramid-shaped peach moonstone crystal to help her ”feel balanced” and Dennis has his cold turkey cure – and now Roger, who has found God and claims to have become the “optimum version” of himself, steps in to be their self-appointed physio- and psycho-therapist. Supplying them with strange exercise routines and berry-based remedies of his own making, Roger turns this cabin in the woods into a house of healing, even if Dennis remains resistant to his brother’s ministrations – and that resistance repeatedly positions Dennis as the arsehole, ever so steadily driving a wedge between him and Mia.
To The Moon is a three-hander, mixing in elements of Roman Polanski’s Knife In The Water (1962) with Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Resolution (2012) – and as the tensions build between this trio, alone but for the occasional red-robed monk who wanders in from a nearby monastery, Dennis is not sure whether his vivid nightmares and waking hallucinations are a symptom of heroin withdrawal or of someone messing with him. Either way, he is becoming more and more lost to paranoid delusions that expose the toxins and toxicity within him – while outside, Roger is digging a grave for the beaver (a loaded term) that he says he regularly hunts. These two brothers, bitter rivals since childhood, are now once again at loggerheads, with Mia caught between them and having to find out who she really is, and how far she is willing to go to save her fragile, disintegrating marriage.
“Nothing has ever been solved with violence,” Roger will say – and this taut, darkly comic character study will leave the viewer weighing the truth of his words against the future of a relationship whose very real problems have been merely buried/berried rather than resolved, with the stripes not so much changed as roughly painted over.
Strap: In Scott Friend’s tense, darkly funny three-hander, sibling rivalry and marital friction create a heady atmosphere of deceit, descent and delusion.
© Anton Bitel