By Bill Arceneaux
Local filmmaker Zack Godshall’s breath of absolutely wonderful truth, Low and Behold, is finally getting a proper release, after having hit film festivals and limited Amazon distribution many years ago. Of course, the timing couldn’t be “better,” as the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (the movie is set in the first few months after) has creeped up on us. Speeches, memorials and think pieces have and will be trumpeted out, some good and thoughtful, with others bad and ignorant. Through it all, Low and Behold stands out with an eerily all too familiar ring, one that is both welcome and needed when sifting the mass of Katrina-related media.
It might be appropriate to compare and contrast the film to similarly set ones, like Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Hours or even the Val Kilmer and 50 Cent straight to DVD flick Streets of Blood. All take place during or just after the storm, and reflect on themes of gross neglect, massive change and rampant abuse. It might be appropriate, but not all that necessary. Low and Behold doesn’t quite go for the finger pointing or the grander arguments – instead, it’s all about minimalistic aesthetic and tragically personal content. By being more intimate, it may even have those movies beat.
Through 90 minutes of near-documentary style photography (with occasional talking head interviews with real residents and victims), we follow a young man, brought down to New Orleans by his excitable uncle, to join him in the insurance claims adjusting business. Vulture Capitalism is briefly highlighted through a generator-powered, muggy feeling “party,” where the boss gives a Wolf of Wall Street style speech on disasters and money. Don’t misunderstand me – this company and these adjusters aren’t technically bad people and most certainly are not shown in a stereotypical way. They’re just awkwardly enthusiastic. Low and Behold cares only about people, flaws and all.
The unfortunate protagonist, Turner Stull, is an aimless 20-something, and enters our story as a kind of dimwit, oblivious to the fact that people will, no matter what, see him as an “asshole” by virtue of occupation. It’s a tough spot to be in for anyone, but especially for someone so naive and so simple, to tell strangers what their lives and memories are worth. The performance of Turner by Barlow Jacobs (Dead Man’s Burden) is as revelatory as the movie is. Constantly nervous, but never guilt ridden. Indifferent, but not emotionless. He may be the perfect blank slate to absorb the lessons of this journey – one that he most certainly isn’t aware he’s on. He sees the destruction without actually seeing it. It’s almost as if the world around him is drowned out by the sound of his erratic heartbeat. Anxiety from the job? Anxiety from his past? Anxiety always. I relate to this guy so much. At least he can use the humidity as an excuse for his sweating.
When he connects with the effortlessly likable New Orleanian Nixon, a true “Bridge” (also the name of the company doing claims adjusting) to empathy is forged, whether he wants one to be or not. Nixon livens everyone up around him, going so far as to challenge random people to sprints. If Nixon embodies NOLA, what does Turner represent? Could he just represent himself? I think so. Ultimately, this unassuming young dolt is a guide for the audience to explore and feel this movie through. And the movie utilizes the reality of actual damage and style of true to life documentation mixed with standard/simple/creative narrative to craft a trip straight to the universal heart we all share. Poignant and clever, Low and Behold achieves the type of higher truth that I search for in every movie I watch. The type that transcends a piece of art and a patron of arts. The type that brings us all together. The type that feels real because it is real.
A certain writer from Chicago may want another Katrina, but I’d rather send her this film.
5 / 5 *s
Low and Behold is now available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play. For more from the author, follow him on Twitter @BillReviews.