Review: Brotherly Lies

Written and directed by Mark Schwab, who also stars in the film, Lex is recovering from a recent suicide attempt and staying at his family’s house with best friend Kenny. Screenwriter Shane is staying in the summerhouse and Lex’s brother and his girlfriend are staying too. With mismatched love connections and family secrets that can’t seem to stay hidden, their house becomes a pressure cooker ready to blow. Starring: Pano Tsaklas, Robert Sean Campbell, Jose Fernando, Jacob Betts and Casey Semple.

One of the great things about both Mark Schwab’s writing and direction with Brotherly Lies is that it holds onto a down to earth feel throughout despite adding in themes of wealth and influence. They’re minimal but the gorgeous choice of shooting location alone screams money yet it doesn’t hinder the characters from feeling relatable at all, rather adding context to their personalities. Ultimately the film boils down to a group of people who are all struggling with the same thing, finding a contentment with their lives. Whether it be through love, work or trauma, they’re all in limbo and searching for something concrete to see them through.

From start to finish Brotherly Lies holds your attention extremely well and a huge part of that is the atmosphere Schwab builds. It has an impressive depth and his directorial style throughout has a great variety, playing around with different angles. However, one key theme to the direction is intimacy, it never strays too far from its characters, especially with the entire film taking place in the one location. It’s a location with plenty of space so it never quite feels closed in but it does get across how they’re existing in their own little bubble. It also holds a nicely realistic awkwardness to keep a humble quality to the story.

Within this story there is huge potential for something more scandalous, melodramatic or juicy but Schwab chooses to keep things more grounded which was a great choice. It often strays into contemplative territory which comes with a mixed success in gaining the right weight to the emotion but it is still engaging. It’s a similar case with the leading actors, all of the performances are strong but when a more intense emotion is called for, things can’t quite hit the perfect note.

Although putting that aside, it’s a well cast ensemble, Pano Tsaklas as Lex takes the lead with an endearing vulnerability. His performance is even more affective in what goes unsaid than when he’s outwardly expressing Lex’s struggle. Robert Sean Campbell’s David is interesting, presenting him as the type of character that you can tell exactly who he is within seconds but revealing the different layers as time goes on. Becoming a case of how much is forced beneath the surface to present a happy front. Jose Fernando, Jacob Betts, Casey Semple and writer, director Mark Schwab round out the cast well, it’s a connected but varied group of personalities. The only other weakness would be the chemistry between Jose Fernando and Jacob Betts, it’s there but not quite strongly enough.

Brotherly Lies is a captivating story of family, secrets and unrequited love. It surprisingly goes for a more understated style of drama which works very well and is engaging throughout. There are times when a larger emotion is called for and it can’t quite get where it needs to go but they’re minimal and on the whole don’t take away from the strong performances of the cast. It’s shot well in a fantastically chosen location and holds a humble charm throughout.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Available now on Tubi, Fearless and screening at this year’s The Palm Springs LGBTQ+ Festival from Cinema Diverse on September 24 – For more info click here

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