‘City of Salt’ is directed by Alicia Oberle Farmer and John D. Farmer, and centers around a family going through immense tragedy, a small-town family in UTs (The Dorans) daughter goes missing in the midst of her father William Dorans (played by Jake Ulasich) political campaign. As the mystery of their daughter, Theo Dorans (played by Lauren Catherine) disappearance is uncovered, her mother Jessica Doran (played by Stacylyn Bennett) and father start to uncover a deep secret that attacks at the very core of their family. In this deep sometimes hard to watch drama, the Farmers give audiences a look into the life of what can happen to a family under societal and religious pressure.
The film is told in a non-linear form, taking you through the mystery in different stages that help you to unravel the mystery along with the story. I really admire the directors for choosing to tell it in this way, as it is was bold storytelling and executed quite well. Without getting too far into the story to avoid spoilers, I really enjoyed the coming of age portion explaining Theos character and what it was like growing up in predominantly religious culture in the home and outside of it. Growing up in Utah, there is a cultural “norm” that if you aren’t a part of or want to exclude yourself from can be a very challenging and overlooked part of adolenscence. I think the acting done by Lauren Catherine as well as all of the younger supporting cast was done well and I empathized and connected with their performances a lot! The subject matter in question is very raw, and if you maybe aren’t prepared for what you are walking into it may be a little hard to connect to. But the performances by the main cast and their chemistry with one another will keep you engaged till the end.
The cinematography and lighting, technical aspects of the film were done great. There were a few spots during handheld shots where it would be hard to tell if a frame tilted was for dramatic effect or if the camera simply just wasn’t level during filming. Some of the camerawork could have used some more precise and intentional framing to what the story and characters needed but you always had your characters in the frame and could follow along with what was happening. The tone keeps pretty consistent as this is a drama about a missing person, there isn’t a ton of lightness in the story, aside from the flashbacks to the moments with Theo Duran and her classmates. There are a lot of morality choices made in the ending of the story that may divide audiences, particularly in how the film chooses to resolve the antagonists of the film.
‘City of Salt’ has bold themes and topics that it doesn’t shy away from. This is a story from a perspective that an audience member (specifically a Utah local audience member) may not share. There are strong LGBT themes throughout with a powerful message on how we as a society react to someone coming out, and many people who I have known close have had experiences very similar to what you see in this film. Perhaps it will hit too close to home, but what film is supposed to do more than anything is be able to make you empathize with something outside of your own life, and this film manages to do so. The film has a strong message of empathy, of being kind to one another and accepting people with differences. The message comes as a haunting warning but is effective nonetheless.
With impressive albeit a little cheesy performance by its leads, and a compelling and engaging drama mystery, ‘The City of Salt’ is a worthy contender for any independent film festival and worth checking out!
I’m giving City of Salt a 7/10
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Too generous. Making a point is important but it is lost in the pathetic acting!