22 September 2011 | greg-166-603675
A Modest Mystery
Family-friendly without being the least bit evangelical or preachy (take that as you will), Secret at Arrow Lake feels like a Hallmark Channel version of an all-grown-up Happy Hollisters mystery. This is not a bad thing, per se—it's just rather tame, and a surprising release for distributor PureFlix.
C. Thomas Howell appears here as Arrow Lake's mystery man, an indie-newspaper magnate of sorts who turns up under suspicious circumstances at Mia's country-side B&B. Is he, or is he not, Mia's presumed-KIA father? Everyone in town is curious, and everyone in town (as often happens in small towns) voices an opinion about who Daniel Williams is, and what ought to be done with him.
The timing of seeing Howell here was very curious. I recently purchased the special edition of The Outsiders, Francis Ford Coppola's storied and future-star-studded production of S.E. Hinton's coming-of-age novel. Howell was the star there, and he continued a long run of high-profile appearances up through Gettysburg, in which he played younger brother to Jeff Daniels' Joshua Chamberlain. As I was watching the Outsiders cast reunion on that disc's special features, I thought, "Wow. What's happened to Howell? He's such a magnetic personality. The camera just loves him. What's he doing these days?" Lo and behold, here he turns up, put to modestly good use by journeyman director Brad Keller. The two have now collaborated on three different projects.
Well, Howell has certainly been busy. He averages four to five films a year, working mostly on independent films, shorts, and TV movies. He's just been completely off my radar, even though I don't exactly specialize in mainstream theatrical releases these days. I expect he'd make a pretty interesting interview, and plays a significant supporting role in the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man.
In any event, he certainly anchors what would otherwise be a largely uncompelling story and cast. One weakly-staged and -played plot complication aside, there's not an awful lot happening in this story that my three-sentence synopsis doesn't convey. The pace is languid though not boring, and there's just enough story to fill up the 83 minutes of running time without overstaying its welcome--though some of the scenes do feel a little repetitive. Ali Faulkner is enjoyable as Mia (even if her character could have been written more strongly and memorably) and the supporting characters are mostly distinctive.
When all was said and done, I liked Secret at Arrow Lake because I like gentle mysteries--and Arrow Lake came up with a surprising resolution that didn't feel forced, and yet left more than one of the central questions open to interpretation. Something to think about. Nice.
Bottom line is that this is a good release for PureFlix. The core of PureFlix's slate is movies that they produce themselves, mostly starring co-founders David A.R. White and Randy Travis. They're earnest evangelical films that aim for a mainstream sensibility and yet come off as rather stilted and stodgy. PureFlix fills out the remainder of their schedule with indie Christian films of spotty (if improving) quality--but this is the first of the latter variety I've seen that doesn't preach to the choir.
In fact, there's no preaching of any kind in Arrow Lake. PureFlix's audience wouldn't want to see that from every film--but it refreshingly bucks a trend of predictability.
Secret at Arrow Lake is unrated, but this is very definitely a film that you can sit down and watch with your kids. There aren't any youngsters for yours to identify with, but most kids know a mystery when they see one--and follow along.
Courtesy of a national publicist, Greg screened a promotional DVD of Secret at Arrow Lake.
(Originally published at Past the Popcorn: http://ptpopcorn.com/index.php/2011/secret-at-arrow-lake/)