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First Look Review - BONE CAGE

bone cage review
A lumberjack feels trapped by the circumstances of his limited life.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Taylor Olson

Starring: Taylor Olson, Amy Groening, Sam Vigneault, Ursula Calder, Christian Murray

bone cage poster

Adapted from Catherine Banks’ well received Canadian play of the same name, and by the chap who starred in a stage run of it, no less, Taylor Olson’s (Writer/Director/Star) Bone Cage carries over from its forebearer a powerfully theatrical sense of performance. Olson plays lead character Jamie with an intensely conducive energy: the film, its events and characters, orbit around his destructive and compelling momentum.

Jamie is a ‘clear-cutter’, a job that involves manning heavy machinery to cut down huge swathes of forestry for pulp. This is physically exhausting and spiritually uninspiring work, which involves the further damage of an environment that, with limited employment opportunities and a crushing sense of defeatism in the small town where Jamie lives, is already dying in other ways. When the forest is levelled, hulking Jamie scours the broken branches and upturned trunks for injured wildlife, which he cradles in his big shovel-like hands and takes home to (invariably unsuccessfully) revive. When he is not in work, Jamie drinks and drinks, quarrels with his sister and best mate, and counts down the short days until his marriage to a teenager, an impending union that not even he seems to understand. He’s a lumberjack and he’s not ok.

bone cage review

In keeping with theatrical tradition, Bone Cage is more a character study or a forceful meditation upon a theme, rather than a causally propelled narrative. The characters in Olson’s play are stuck in an existential stagnation, and in fact, spend most of their running times avoiding pressing issues, or unresolved trauma. There is Jamie and Chicky’s (Amy Groening) father, who suffers dementia and is fixated upon the untimely death of his toddler son years ago to the exclusion of all else. Chicky is in a loveless sexual relationship with an older man. Jamie himself makes a big show of passion whenever he sees his girlish fiancĂ© Kirsta (Ursula Calder), but, if he was honest with himself (which he certainly isn’t), he’d rather be roughhousing with his twink-like pal Kevin (Sam Vigneault), whom he actually cannot seem to keep his hands off: playfighting, grabbing in a headlock, simply hugging. Olson plays Jamie as a man possessed of restless, overwhelming forces that he dare not begin to approach, a chief factor being the absence of his little brother and his possible implication in his death.


Of course, as Bone Cage has its roots in theatre, the entailed symbolism is often as heavy handed as Jamie himself. The sick birds in cages are paralleled by both the characters’ circumstances and the film’s title (the body is a ‘bone cage’ which imprisons the body - eeeesh!). The necessity of theatre, a more concentrated artform than multi-faceted cinema, to visualise subtext leads to the incredible mid-film sight of Jamie and Kevin dressed in unflattering drag for the former’s stag night. This in turn segues into Jamie beating the shit out of some mook for disrespecting Kevin, the one person who the nihilistic lead seems to care about.  It is quite telling that the next day a bruised Jamie still hasn’t rubbed his lipstick off...

bone cage review

Bone Cage isn’t exclusively about repressed sexuality though (I did try and read the play before reviewing the film but couldn’t get hold of a digital copy; however, researching around, I believe that in the original Kevin is Jamie’s brother, a significant alteration by Olson?), more an analogy for how capitalist conditions, and rolling industry, crushes working towns into faceless conformity.


What Olson also brings is an intensely cinematic vitality, with his camera always expressively placed, often very imaginatively (there is an incredibly subtle shot - Jamie slamming a door and getting into his truck - where the camera follows Jamie and swings seamlessly into the back of the truck to frame him through the rear windscreen, giddily capturing the aggressive focus of the character). Transitions are agitated, fracturing the flow of the narrative like bad memories, and there is the occasional Herzog-esque vista of mystical nature (having walked the dogs through similar forestry wreckage - one day lush and verdant, the next empty and dry - I can vouch that it is a uniquely depressing sight).

bone cage review

Like the unedifying tasks that Jamie has to perform, Taylor Olson’s Bone Cage, his feature length debut as a director, is a powerful, overwhelming and strenuous experience. But the brute force of the film is matched by its raw humanity and deeply sensitive approach to its difficult, tragic characters. There is nothing repressed about my excitement for what this talented and skilful film maker does next.

Bone Cage is on Canadian VOD from July 6th. A UK/ROI rlease has yet to be announced.



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