Review: Samland

Written and directed by Juan P. Reyes, co-written by Karen Herzog and Charles Leisenring, a man and women find themselves and love in the oddest of places on a journey of an American dream. Starring: Carlos Montilla, Hanna Balicki, Alejandro Patiño and Luis Fernandez.

Samland jumps in extremely quickly, there’s a lot being weaved together and while it all has a relevance to the story, it can feel rushed. It doesn’t give itself the chance to make a clear impression, which is something it has trouble with throughout. There are two stories at work here, one of two strangers thrown together, learning to get along and another of drugs, crime and violence. The two paths don’t quite move in the same direction, they create very different tones which fight against one another for the lead. If you take the story down to its bare bones, it’s a good concept with potential for a thriller, dark edge but the romantic element and overall style conflict with that.

Part of the issue is that the atmosphere built by the cinematography feels quite everyday, which doesn’t help the criminal aspects come through with more of a punch. It also misses out on adding a tension to fit the risk and ticking clock of the story. The visual is otherwise solid, the style of direction works but it just needed that extra push to bring through a more impactful atmosphere. It then ramps things up rather fast towards the end and it’s too much of a shift in tones to let the ending land as emotionally as it’s trying to.

The performances however are extremely consistent, Carlos Montilla and Hanna Balicki have a subtle but sweet chemistry. They hit the occasional cliché or over-sentimentality but they’re easy to watch and the connection between them is convincing. Alejandro Patiño is a great addition, he doesn’t get to be overly involved for the most part but he has a strong presence. Luis Fernandez feels more stereotypical as J.J., a hothead criminal seeking revenge, so there’s not a lot to get out of his character that we haven’t seen before but he ticks the boxes.

Samland is a solid concept but the different themes sadly fight against each other rather than working together. It’s seeking a darker edge to fit its criminal element but is undercut by the story’s attempt at romance. The direction and performances are well done but without the atmosphere to back it up, everything doesn’t quite come together to fulfil its potential.

Verdict: ✯✯✯| 6/10

Click here to find out how you can see the film

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