Review: Hidden Orchard Mysteries: The Case of the Air B&B Robbery

Written and directed by Brian Shackelford, co-written with Joyce Fitzpatrick, when a home robbery occurs, two junior detectives attempt to discover the culprit, their closest neighbours are the most likely suspects and the investigation digs up bigger secrets than they expected. Starring: Gabriella Pastore, Ja’ness Tate, Kim Akia, Hunter Bills, Diane D Carter, Carlos Coleman, Orlando Cortez, Tim Davidson, Camilla Elaine, Ole Goode, Corey J. Grant, Donovan Williams, Jaymee Vowell, Vanessa Padla and Catarah Hampshire.

First things first, you have to forgive its terrible title, it’s unnecessarily long and could have easily been made more catchy or just shorter, sadly it’s immediately knocking itself back and likely to make some viewers doubt its quality before knowing anything else. Looking beyond that to the film itself, it ultimately boils down to a couple of imaginative and curious young women who attempt to solve a local crime and get themselves into a few scrapes along the way. Led by Gabriella Pastore and Ja’ness Tate best friends who spend every available second in each other’s company, two charming, lively and intelligent girls who find something to motivate themselves with instead of spending the entirety of their free time on Instagram.

There’s a quality that will quickly become clear to older viewers that’s reminiscent of 90’s children’s television, something that would sit comfortably alongside a show like Goosebumps, it’s cheesy and simple but it has a creative edge to it. Perhaps one of the strongest elements that perpetuates that atmosphere is the girls’ methods of doing things, it’s not all computers and answers at the touch of a button, it’s using their logic and intuition to lead them in the right direction, showing comprehensive skills and not just an ability to google. It holds everything together nicely with a more classic method of reaching an audience, it’s not shoving its message down your throat but it does have clear themes of acceptance, awareness of prejudice, understanding and determination. There’s no attempt to make these girls appear popular or overly concerned with their looks, they have strong personalities and energy, they’re self-confident but not arrogant and overall likable which keeps you interested in the outcome, possibly even more than the plot itself. One other element that might surprise you is the cinematography, it’s working on a higher level than you’d expect from a children focused film and is genuinely a pleasure to watch.

Pastore and Tate have a really great chemistry, they’re convincing and enjoyable to watch, they’re not perfect and have plenty of traits of your average teen girl but they also avoid the pitfalls of being vapid, shallow or foolish. Their performances are both surprisingly good, they may not be exceptional or breakout roles but they’re fun to watch and give both of their characters some substance and emotion so hopefully this will parlay into future roles for them both. They’re supported by a large ensemble of different characters and each of them has their role to play in the story, it’s a nice varied bunch and the only one that stands out as being awkward and unconvincing is Davey Moore, his role as Gabby’s (Pastore) dad is cringeworthy, even for a dad role. Other than that one exception, the rest of the cast plays well, they each accept the melodramatic, cheesy nature that comes with a film such as this and roll with it, they resist going over the top and add a fair amount of comedy to the girls’ adventure.

The story itself is fairly simple, any adult watching could probably take the hints within the first couple of minutes and predict the direction its headed in, but for its very young target audience the progression and turns are ideal. The writing as a whole exceeds expectations, generally the assumption is that you’ll get very little from a film like this but it’s modern, respectful, funny and hits upon a lot of tones of young women being smart, independent and resourceful that many other of its counterparts have missed out on. As mentioned, there’s a quality to it that’s familiar, it almost feels somewhere between Nancy Drew and Scooby Doo, and the latter gets a nice nod from the writers, it’s light-hearted, creative and fun. It also has a surprising amount of jokes for the older viewers to enjoy, it’s not too centred on its young audience so much so that no-one older than 14 can enjoy it which is always great to see, as it tends to be hit or miss with the large studios whether they consider the adults that will be watching with their kids.

Overall, it’s sending a great message about young women being logical, motivated, intelligent and resourceful and of being accepting of other people, whether that be your stepmother or someone that’s been often misjudged. It’s also centred around an affluent neighbourhood that for once is diverse and not just full of white people who come from family money, the cast is a more accurate representation of society today which is refreshing to see, especially in something aimed at young kids. Pastore and Tate provide charming, energetic performances and give their characters tangible personalities, while being supported by a great ensemble cast. If you go into this film not taking for granted that it’s going to be cheesy or melodramatic then yes, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment but you should know better. If you go into this film knowing what sort of atmosphere you’re getting, you can sit back and enjoy some simple, easy entertainment that sends a positive message.

Verdict: ✯✯✯| 6/10

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