By: Trevor Chartrand
A surprising and VERY unique take on the buddy-comedy, To Dust is a thoughtful and inspired look at grief – with plenty of well-timed comedic wit. It’s a premise we’ve all heard before, with two unlikely companions teaming up to reach a common goal, however the approach and style this film takes is a brand entirely its own.
While mourning the death of his wife, a timid, mild-mannered Jewish man (Géza Röhrig) finds himself plagued with disturbing dreams surrounding her death – dreams in which her body is stuck in limbo, a perpetual state of unrest underground. When the clergy fail to put his mind at ease, Shmuel looks for answers outside his religious brethren. Turning to science, he enlists the assistance of a community college professor and stoner extraordinaire (Matthew Broderick) to answer his questions. Together, they conduct a series of creative and zany experiments to determine the rate of decomposition for Shmuel’s wife’s body.
The ‘rabbi and the science teacher’ concept may sound like the start to an awful ‘guy walks into a bar’ joke, but To Dust takes a sincere approach and sprinkles it with levity in all the right places. The thrust of the story is slow to start, but once Broderick and Röhrig are introduced the film really finds its footing. Both characters are fish-out-of-water in their own way; in over their heads while meddling in worlds neither can completely understand.
The two leads are excellent together, playing the substantial contrast between their characters superbly, making their marriage look effortless and believable. Broderick shows us a unique character who’s both abrasive and meek, strong-willed and timid, all at once. As Shmuel, Röhrig plays most of the film lost and aloof, drifting and aimless. It’s played for laughs until it isn’t – and viewers will effectively realize this goofy man is struggling and suffering in some really deep ways. Both performances are impressive, but it’s the chemistry between the two of them that truly elevates every scene they share.
Visually the film has a sort of drab, bland look. In all fairness, this decision works in favor of To Dust. It’s that indie-film bleakness that we’ve become all too familiar with, where muted colors suck the life and vibrancy out of the characters on-screen. It makes sense thematically here though, given the characters’ personal struggles and emotional emptiness. Then again, since these people spend so much time studying dirt, the film’s color timing may have been adjusted to reflect that, comprised almost entirely of earth tones.
While the journey the film takes us on is highly entertaining, the ending, sadly leaves a lot to be desired. That’s not to say there’s anything left unresolved, however the film fizzles out rather abruptly. Those final moments may leave audiences wanting more, and not in the best way.
Despite this, To Dust is nevertheless an inspired and fresh take on some classic themes. Director Shawn Snyder invites audiences on a journey that investigates religion and faith, grief and suffering, as well as the scientific method – all packed tightly in one ninety-minute movie. Despite the heavy subject matter, the film finds a fine balance between engaging, thought-provoking material and brilliant comedic moments.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor