February 11, 2015

Druid Peak

Marni Zelnick, 2015
After involved in an incident involving a teenage death, Owen is forced to move in with his absentee father Everett. After learning that his father works with wolves as a park ranger, he soon develops an affection for the animals as well while also forming a bond with a man that hasn't been around his whole life.

People say that Disney's Bambi caused a whole generation of kids to not hunt deer. Perhaps you could say the same thing about Druid Peak, that it could stop a whole generation of kids from hunting wolves (if that’s even a thing?). Druid Peak is sort of like a less Disney-fied version Simon Wincer’s 1993 film Free Willy. Both stories follow a conflicted human character that finds solace in the animal world with a specific creature. Druid Peak even has that similar signature shot of the kid running alongside the animals very much like Jesse did in Willy. But it stops there. Just so you know, there isn't an over-dramatic shot of the wolves jumping over a pile of rocks. Druid is much more transformative, much more thorough. Owen is a very troubled kid. He resembles someone that we all went to high school with. Lacking the male role model, he takes out various forms of aggression on everyone around him. In this case, it’s grabbing a pencil in the class from the kid in front of him. Or it’s throwing a beer bottle in a fire knowing that it’s going to upset someone nearby. He is a true ticking time bomb. He's walking down a very predictable path that ultimately ends behind bars.

The film is guilty of being a bit formulaic. You get a sense early on that the wolves are going to help rehabilitate Owen.  Of course here has to be an injected conflict after he forms the affection for the animals, so of course we input the ranchers who are hungry for wolf blood after losing their cattle. You can also see the romantic elements coming a mile away between Owen and rancher daughter Zoe (played by Harmony Korine’s wife Rachel Korine). And the fellow rangers seem a bit too accepting of Owen. You would think in a real-life situation, they wouldn't necessarily be singing kumbaya by the fire within the first couple of weeks. You would think people would feel a bit threatened by the newcomer who is flying around their park with his father and calling some of the shots. Maybe things are different up there in Wyoming. But none of these elements are really all that distracting. The movie still manages to be quite touching. A lot of this has to do with Owen specifically. You really see an arch in his character. You don't really want to spend any more time with him than you have to when he is still living with his mother. But the good qualities in him really do come out, and they feel authentic. The missing voids are filled, giving him a sense of purpose but also some guidance by his father. The good cinematography in the film feels much bigger than the $100K budget they were working with. The great indie-folk soundtrack blends in perfectly with the beautiful Wyoming backdrop. You come to a movie like Druid Peak wondering if they are going to do anything different with the man-loves-animal theme, and fortunately here they really do.

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