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by Jay Seaver

"Hoping for a state of grace."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There are three or four kind of fascinating stories in "Indiana" which are not so much vying for time as falling short of quite pushing each other hard enough to get to the same place. This makes for a generally decent movie, and for some a genuinely great one, although I suspect that it would have to hit you just right to get that reaction.

After some black-and-white interview footage with (presumably) Indianans who have had some sort of encounter with the paranormal, we're introduced to the "Spirit Doctors": Michael (Gabe Fazio), a somber fellow who works as an executive by day and is feeling the desire to quit while Josh (Bradford West) displays unshakable belief even though any connection he has to the paranormal looks terribly unconvincing unless one is primed to believe (and may not have ever worn a suit in his life). Meanwhile, an old man (Stuart Rudin) runs out of gas on an abandoned road, but this is either a ruse to get a neighbor to take him to the middle of nowhere so he can exact some form of revenge or an opportunity he won't miss.

There's a moment when Michael and Josh appear on a radio program with a skeptic who asks if it's unreasonable to expect even a single bit of evidence to have an angry Josh shoot back "yes!", and it's staged in such a way that it's easy to take this as just a joke at their expense, or something that illustrates the growing wedge between Michael and Josh. Director Toni Comas and co-writer Charlie Williams certainly use it for that, but even as they do, they're also setting up how relying on measurable evidence often can't reflect utterly subjective pain people are feeling, and while maybe Josh doesn't consciously recognize that severing "demonic attachments" or UFO-related activity is the placebo effect in action, the idea that people need something to grab onto so they can assert some sort of control is at the center of the film.

That applies to Josh as much as the more obviously tragic characters; Bradford West may be leaning on the stubborn and pushy aspects of the character heavily in that scene, but there's also a real sense that this is the main thing Josh has - it's what fills his days and also serves as the main source of respect from his teenage son (an appealing Noah McCarty-Slaughter), and that need to believe that he's doing something important and true lurks underneath a laid-back exterior. Gabe Fazio, on the other hand, carries obvious weight as Michael, making what is often not a smooth performance work through a series of not-quite-winces and false starts. Fazio can sometimes seem to overplay the overt depression, although generally it's just enough to serve as a reminder during more active scenes later. Stuart Rudin, meanwhile, gets to play Sam as a fantastically open book, with plenty of humanity and clear motivation even before things start being explained.

It's a low-key movie, seeming to ruminate quite literally as it slowly chews on the material in a back-and-forth motion, not going forward or swallowing until it's completely done, and that may test some viewers' patience. It's not entirely unsatisfying, although it doesn't exactly benefit from seeing much of the last act in a dark house where the audience can barely see anything - though it is moving more toward a moment of quiet realization more than shocking climax, it requires the audience to strain a bit.

That pull toward grace is, perhaps, just enough, at least for those willing to meet a ghost-hunter movie which is providing comfort and relief rather than making the audience jump on its own terms. "Indiana" may not transcend its genre by underplaying it, but it's an interesting take on what people need.

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originally posted: 08/07/17 08:20:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Toni Comas

Written by
  Toni Comas
  Charlie Williams

  Gabe Fazio
  Stuart Rudin
  Bradford West

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