Seraphim Falls (Von Ancken, 2006)

The first hour of Seraphim Falls is so masterfully paced, exquisitely photographed, and brilliantly acted, it’s a massive disappointment when it comes crashing back down to Earth in it’s second half. Director David Von Ancken begins his often impressive but uneven western with silence – Pierce Brosnan’s bearded trapper Gideon sits peacefully on a snow packed mountain side. The calm shifts drastically when a bullet rips through his shoulder, throwing him down the mountain side. Liam Neeson’s Carver appears from the tree line, accompanied by a pack of trackers, seemingly hell bent on capturing this obscure mountain man. Gideon’s escape plays out during the film’s first act, a long, brilliant escape through the white forest and rivers of a land frozen beyond recognition. Brosnan’s character has no dialogue, just the grunts and growls of a man trying to survive. We get a little exposition from Carver as he and his men hunt from close behind. Seraphim Falls is above all things a singular trajectory of iron will and past conflicts, and Von Ancken sets this relationship up perfectly in the opening moments. This bare bones approach (with dialogue, not action) is haunting, letting the viewer attempt to piece together the “why” and the “who’s” of a story which continues relentlessly into the desert region below. Unfortunately, Seraphim Falls turns into a pretty standard western. focusing on slow motion flashbacks, simple explanations, and a tidy ending. But both lead performances are impeccably crafted and for a good portion of the film, Seraphim Falls is a western fan’s dream come true.

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