Oliver Sherman Ryan Redford

Oliver Sherman Ryan Redford
With the horrors of fighting overseas years passed, veteran Franklin Page (Donal Logue) has carved out a quiet, happy rural life; he's married to town beauty Irene (Molly Parker), works at the local factory and is raising his newborn child. In fact, the only reminder of his past is the finger he lost saving the life of a fellow soldier he barely knew, Sherman Oliver (Garret Dillahunt).

Oliver Sherman (a title playing on an anecdote offered by Sherman midway through the film, implying he isn't quite right) opens with the titular figure coming to town to visit his old war buddy. What's strange about this is that he didn't call in advance, simply showing up on Franklin's porch expecting a place to stay, playing on the old adage that once you save a life, it's yours to keep.

This isn't the first act of peculiarity on the part of this invasive stranger whose presence threatens the sanctity of family safety and marital union. From the time he unleashes a barrage of profanity after dropping a plate of hotdogs, we know that Sherman exists only to create problems and it's only a matter of time before physical violence becomes a terrifying reality, digging up wartime nightmares from the past.

These sorts of domestic thrillers were quite popular in American cinema back in the early '90s, with movies like Unlawful Entry and Pacific Heights ushering in Christian anxieties about cultural change negatively affecting the traditional family unit. But this particular film is Canadian, and first-time feature writer/director Ryan Redford isn't interested in employing cheap thrills to sell his narrative. He takes his time with the characters, building conflict organically and allowing the tension to come from quiet, passive-aggressive remarks and escalating pseudo-threats.

Resultantly, while occasionally awkward in editing and scene composition, this xenophobic parable shows a maturity and acuity beyond most character-based psychological thrillers, taking a highbrow approach to the subject. What's more, it shows a new talent in the Canadian filmmaking scene, being one of the more assured debuts to come from English-speaking Canada in quite some time. (Mongrel Media)