After retired sheriff Tom Mayfield discovers the bodies of three women on his rural ranch with no evidence of how they might have got there, he and his family are plunged into a mystery with no simple solution. By dealing with everyone around him who all have differing theories and motivations, as well as enduring being the prime suspect for the killings and figuring out how it all relates to the previous disappearance of his wife, he must uncover the truth of the happenings.
By all rights, Sightings shouldn’t work. It explains concepts of cryptozoology studies, which run the risk of patronising anyone who disagrees with them. There is talk of alien landings, which despite the recent revival of The X-Files is a plotline practically clichéd now. The family issues at the core of the story’s development are better suited to a Lifetime melodrama. Even the film’s most basic aspect, that of a monster movie, hardly seems relevant as whatever creature that may be lurking in the woods barely makes an appearance. However, by distilling each of these clashing facets through some transmutational alchemy, the film deftly merges each of them into a single piece of storytelling that somehow manages to simultaneously be all things at once, each enhancing the others rather than obstructing them.
By keeping the plot focused on the core characters rather than the seemingly inexplicable occurrences going on around them, you are not only caught up in the drama of their everyday lives, but also appreciate just how much the pseudo-supernatural weirdness is affecting them. Tom’s aspiring writer daughter sees the unique experience as an opportunity to prove herself, further straining their already fractious relationship stemming from the loss of her mother. His conspiracy theorist brother-in-law finds old wounds reopened from his own beliefs regarding the circumstances of his sister’s disappearance.
Each character’s personal plights are focused on to such an extent that the dual investigations into the mysterious deaths and the creature’s presence are almost treated as afterthoughts, while the time we spend with them allows us to further appreciate them as people. Relatability is the core of acceptance, and these people are so fundamentally ordinary it’s impossibly to not see things from their perspective and understand their feelings.
It’s entirely possible that any effects – CG and practical – were kept to a minimum in order to keep costs down, but the lo-fi augmentations also serve to amplify the pervasively sinister atmosphere. Without any distracting flashy visuals, the ranch’s isolation feels overwhelming, while the monster being largely kept hidden makes its presence oppressively insidious and any trek into the woods all the more sinister by its potential ubiquity.
Sightings is a straightforward story driven by familiar notions and is largely devoid of any action, and is all the more compelling as a result.
SIGHTINGS / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: DALLAS MORGAN / STARRING: BOO ARNOLD, TAHLIA MORGAN, RAWN ERICKSON, STEPHANIE DRAPEAU, DANTE BASCO, JASON J LEWIS, KEVIN SIZEMORE / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 7TH (USA); TBA (UK)