Directed by Brent Christy and written by Caleb G. Brown and Shea Sizemore, a murder in a sleepy town at the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains shocks the community and refuels a long-time feud between two families. Starring: Johnathon Schaech, Sarah Lancaster, Graham Greene, Ben Esler, Laura Silver, Taegen Burns, Laura Carbonell, Tom Proctor, Odessa Feaster, Sallye Hooks, Danny Vinson and Kevin L. Johnson.
You may recognise lead actor Schaech from his roles as Jonah Hex in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, as the married boyfriend of Ana de Armas in The Night Clerk or as Sean Walker in Ray Donovan, he’s made memorable appearances across film and television but has stepped into the lead role with this film. He certainly has the rugged, small-town sheriff look down to a tee and has the clichéd, tough guy dialogue in his back pocket but there’s one issue with his performance and it’s that he struggles to feel sincere. It’s quite a cheesy, stereotypical role but unlike his performance as Hex, he doesn’t bring a personality to it, other than at times embarrassing dad; he hits the necessary points but as the central focus, it isn’t quite strong enough to really draw you in.
There’s a lot of focus on Schaech’s Justin so it never really strays far but the supporting cast are a very interesting mix, starting with Graham Greene, who is a fantastic actor and brings a level of authenticity and emotion to this film that’s way above what its story is offering. Sarah Lancaster is another great addition, she’s charming, brave and sympathetic as Elli, Lara Silva as the Sheriff’s Deputy has a fun personality, she’s smart and cheeky. Esler as Deputy Thompson is the stereotypical comic relief, there’s always one inept, bumbling, goofball of a cop in these small towns and he’s there to fill that requirement, he does it well but that’s restricted by how formulaic his inclusion is. The surprise performance comes from Sallye Hooks, she only appears briefly but then has one emotionally charged, impactful moment that’s possibly the highlight of the whole film, which is saying something, considering it’s vaguely undercut by some misguided editing.
While the writing is straight out of the well-used playbook of small-town cop films, the cinematography is unexpectedly good work (by director Christy), the aerial and pastoral style shots are well done and really create an atmosphere where the rest of the film struggles to. The direction is solid to fit that easy-going, Sunday afternoon watching tone. Back to the writing, there are a couple of big issues with it, you can forgive its cheesy nature but firstly, it’s trying a little too hard to push a Southern feel and ends up over-compensating but secondly, some of its language feels offensive towards Native American heritage, it’s brief but they should have been much more sensitive with their choice of words. There’s also the typical missteps in not considering actions and consequences, for instance saying one of them needs to stay there and then they all leave, it’s not untypical for a film of this nature but it’s always a shame to see a lack of attention to detail in scripts. That problem with insincerity also strongly permeates the Sheriff’s big speech towards the ends, it’s unfortunately completely ineffective as a rousing moment of strength and bravery.
Blue Ridge is like C.S.I. Virginia and instead of David Caruso, you’ve got Johnathon Schaech who’s ready to say something right on the money when the moment calls for it, you just have to exchange the sunglasses for a cowboy hat, and remove all of the high-tech equipment. It has some problems with clichéd dialogue, stereotypical characters and cheesy vibes but really, it’s perfect viewing for a lazy afternoon that you can sit back and enjoy. It has some surprising performances and genuinely isn’t a predictable ending, which is always a bonus with a murder mystery.