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First Look Review - BUTTERFLIES OF BILL BAKER

A man with a violent past attempts to raise an adopted child.


Review by Troy Balmayer

Directed by: Sania Jhankar

Starring: Will Chase, Marin Hinkle, Olek Krupa, Richard Short, Sterling Jerins



"Butterflies of Bill Baker satisfies by warming you up and then hitting you hard with questions that buzz around in your head. A rewarding watch."


Bill Baker is trying to deal with insomnia and severe sleepwalking states that have previously led him to commit awful acts. Now single and without a child he gets the option to adopt an orphan and thanks to Dr. Burzeckaia’s treatment, Bill and seven year old Annie get on like wild fire. But can he keep ahead of his condition and make sure Annie is safe from his own actions?
This is a well constructed movie with splinters of tension piercing its quite heartfelt and moving central plot. The divide in blasts of thriller-esque shots to the more serene story of trying to become a father is a fantastic device that pulls you in and won’t really let you go. Led by a confident lead and directed with an eye for assured depth this narrative tickles away with the idea of something dark and unavoidable.
Sania Jhankar builds this frankly beautiful tale really well. The majority of it occurs in the present, where calming shots of gardens and butterflies act as obvious but nonetheless great signals of how Bill is as a person. It adds character and gives him that caring nurturing side that is necessary for the fact he’s about to take on a commitment of looking after another life. Then, seeing the more violent side of things helps make you realise just how bad his mental psyche can be; the broken garden, the flashes of his past come into play now and then and make you question what might happen. All the while, her direction leads you down a path of unsure feelings regarding what occurred in Bill’s life and what may actually happen in time to come. That’s a great sense of power a director can have in keeping audiences guessing, and she uses it splendidly.
The shots that compliment Jhankar’s directing also do well in building the mysterious quality of Baker’s personal life. Lance Kaplan captures the lush side of proceedings, which work in favour of Bill’s blossoming as his medicine kicks in and helps his mind and personality get better. Then the writing of course helps tick away in the back of your mind as you wonder where they’re taking this plot. Jhankar and Evan Kilgore’s screenplay isn’t perhaps one with total clarity, and the end notes of the story don't make for a mind-blowing twist, but it’s certainly satisfactory and suitable, though the happier wrapping up of ends is a mildly bland affair. The best aspects of their writing lands squarely in their characterisation of the figures in the film. Bill, Annie, Mac and others are well drawn personas and you believe how they fit into the grand scheme of things. How they interact also helps maintain your interest; you want to see how moments develop, and the story thrives in the constant pushing of Bill Baker’s character.
Music over the scenes is greatly used and Ross Milligan must be credited for composing instrumental tracks that underline the scenes in a delightful way. The quite often guitar plucking motifs makes you question what you’re seeing. This tense rising of sounds reaches a fine crescendo when Bill fears his condition has lost him Annie. Then acoustic beats balance out the thrills as Bill gleefully goes about business as an apparently more well-rounded man. This upbeat music helps in also putting you on Bill’s side and empathising with how he grows as a role model.
Will Chase is a confident leading guy, and through his ups and downs, Bill Baker becomes a truly investable character with that shred of worrying darkness, making us unsure whether we should like him or not. That’s a fine subtle level to play with and Chase balances the unstable behaviour of his character in an understated, yet emotional and tremendous manner. Sterling Jerins is a delightful ray of sunshine as the perky and somewhat annoying young girl. The assured resolve she has in scenes opposite Chase is great to watch and the rise of their father/daughter relationship is a delight. Olek Krupa delivers the exposition and the turn in the story, which is fine enough, but it becomes a somewhat clich├ęd mad doctor routine that rivals Nick from The Simpsons.
All in all, this movie satisfies by warming you up and then hitting you hard with questions that buzz around in your head. The psychological thread never fully goes away and that’s the special thing, as even through the smiling sunny moments of bonding, you can’t help but feel ready for something to ruin the idyllic dream. A rewarding watch with lovely acting, well written characters and a near eternal sense of growing fear as its thriller seeds are planted in your mind.




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