Canadian Film Festival ’16: Borealis

Borealis is a film I’ve been waiting for: Canadian cinema that’s tragic, but neither melodramatic or gratuitous.

Aside from the film being affectively sentimental and gripping, it was an added surprise to see director Sean Garrity at the helm with actor/screenwriter Jonas Chernick and young star Joey King.  I received a quality film that maintained a filmmaker’s credibility and convinced me of performers worth paying attention to.

Chernick plays Jonah, a snivelling gambling addict who thinks he’s a lot smoother than he actually is.  As his compulsive high rolling lands him in yet another horrible situation, two goons (Kevin Pollak, Clé Bennett) give Jonah an ultimatum in order to repay his large debt.  In the heat of the moment and desperate to rekindle his relationship to daughter Aurora (played by King in a role that requires her to portray different levels of blindness), Jonah suggests a road trip to Manitoba.  He eagerly wants his daughter to see the Northern Lights – a spectacle he raves about – before she goes blind.

Jonas Chernick’s screenplay (adapting from Garrity’s short film Blind) is honest with all kinds of heartbreak and happiness.  Borealis slugs a lot of bleak circumstances towards the audience (Jonah itching to score big to dig himself out of a deep financial hole, Aurora’s hindered sight, the distance that grows between family as matters grow seemingly hopeless), but the screenwriter backs it all up with well-written relatable and emotional characters.  The decisions are natural, which knots our stomach when Jonah and Aurora are cornered at a dead end.

Borealis doesn’t stress how unfortunate everything is because it doesn’t want to linger.  For a drama, Garrity knows there’s no narrative progression in repetitive sulking.  Instead, the director is always adding to his film by further fleshing out his characters or tightening the tension.  Furthermore, Garrity departs from his usual signatures and excels with a new style where he can still play with different POVs.

From my experience with the filmmaker, Borealis is Sean Garrity’s best film.  It’s also a stupendous breakout for the cast, including comedian Kevin Pollak who is scary and powerful in his villainous role.

Borealis screens at Toronto’s Canadian Film Festival on Thursday, March 31 at 7:00 pm at The Royal Cinema.  Sean Garrity’s film hits Toronto’s Carlton Cinema and Kingsway Cinemas on April 8, and opens in Winnipeg on April 15.

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