SXSW 2014: “Sequoia” – Review by Mark Krawczyk

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A dark and dramatic film that takes an unflinching look at cancer.

Sequoia is the story of Riley, a 23 year old woman suffering from stage 3 cancer. Riley decides to go to the Sequoia National Park to end her life. Her plan hits a speed bump when she meets a young man named Ogden while at the park. If that isn’t bad enough, her family learns about Riley’s plan and try their hardest to put their differences to the side as they rush to try and stop her.

As Riley, Aly Michalka portrays a complex character with many layers and each one is darker than the next.  Ogden, played by Dustin Milligan, is the exact opposite of Riley and the contrast between the two makes for some interesting discussions. The chemistry between the two is spot on and the more time these two spend on-screen, the stronger the chemistry gets.

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When we are introduced to Riley’s family we understand part of the reason why Riley mindset is the way that it is. Riley’s family is one of the more dysfunctional on screen families that I have seen in awhile. Riley’s mom, Bev (Joey Lauren Adams) comes off as a self centered bitch that doesn’t give a damn about her daughter. Bev’s boyfriend, Steve (Demetri Martin), believes the majority of Riley’s mental issues are just her way to get attention. Riley’s rebellious little sister, Van (Sophi Bairley), is more than willing to help Riley in her planned suicide. Riley’s dad, Oscar (Todd Lowe), is an alcoholic trying to turn things around and also seems to be the one who cares the most if Reily lives or dies.  Each one of these characters seemed to represent every type of screwed up personality we have seen in other unstable onscreen families. Yet they also felt very real, which is due to the writing.

Andrew Rothschild’s script is never too light in tone as it maintains the sense of foreboding for Riley.  The performances by all the actors felt genuine.  The chemistry between Michalka and Milligan was very strong, and you can feel the tension between them and feelings they develop for each other over the course of the movie.  There is a surprise cameo by Lou Diamond Philips who does a great job for the short amount of time he is on screen.

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Director Andy Landen gives us a film that is as poignant as it is entertaining, as well as a bit depressing.  It is a journey that I felt did not drag at any point.  The setting of the beautiful Sequoia woods was an interesting juxtaposition to the dark subject the film presents. Aly Michalka does a fantastic job of pulling you with her to feel her determination, sadness and insanity.  Sequoia is a film that will keep people talking after viewing it, and the cast of characters that will stick with you well after the credits roll.

Score: 4 out of 5 stubs.

About the Author: Mark Krawczyk has been reviewing films since 1993. He is the host of WeLiveFilm.com’s Horror Thursdays and has his own movie review show on his channel that you can catch here www.youtube.com/SpecialMark  and on twitter @moviemaniac3d

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