Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.
Directed by Taylor Olson
Written by Taylor Olson, based on the play by Catherine Banks
Starring Taylor Olson, Ursula Calder and Amy Groening
Classification N/A; 89 minutes
There should be a Telefilm-funded message that precedes the new Nova Scotia drama Bone Cage. Yes, this is a micro-budget Canadian film. Yes, it is about miserable people enduring miserable circumstances. But, no, please don’t run away!
Director-writer-star Taylor Olson sets himself up with a particular challenge here: how to convince Canadians to watch his delicate, intense portrait of small-town agony knowing that a good portion of Canadians have by this point been conditioned to run away screaming from domestic cinema. Without the aid of a half-decent marketing campaign and/or recognizable performers, the proposition hits insurmountable levels. But bless Olson for going at it regardless, and coming out the other end with a worthy addition to Atlantic Canada’s increasingly intimidating film scene.
Adapting Catherine Banks’s Governor-General’s Award-winning 2008 play, Olson’s script focuses on Jamie, an anxious young man trying to escape the confines of his rural Nova Scotian life: his alcoholic father (Christian Murray), his loving but naïve fiancée (Ursula Calder), the good ol’ boys determined to bully his unstable friend Kevin (Sam Vigneault). But mostly Jamie is trying to leave his job as a clear-cutter for a local wood processor – physically demanding work that leaves him so shaken that, after every shift, he seeks out the birds whose homes he just destroyed, in futile attempts to nurse them (re: himself) back to health.
Over the next hour and a half, Olson – who does effective, suffocating work as Jamie – captures a familiar though still engaging world of go-nowhere-isms. Jamie, his father, his wife-to-be, his smart-but-unambitious sister Chicky (Amy Groening): They are all forever stuck in self-destructive patterns. And if Olson and his game cast weren’t so determined to shade their characters with delicate, sometimes tremendous layers of humanity, Bone Cage’s fatalism might be impossible to digest.
But like his fellow Atlantic filmmakers Ashley McKenzie (Werewolf) and Nicole Dorsey (Black Conflux), Olson pushes against expectations to create an effective, haunting work. Even if the tourism board of Nova Scotia might disagree.
Bone Cage is now available across digital and on-demand platforms, including Apple TV/iTunes and Google Play
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.