The Misguided, 2017.
Directed by Shannon Alexander.
Starring Katherine Langford, Anna Philp, Caleb Galati, Athan Bellos, Steven J. Mihaljevich, Clay Foster, Kirstie Francis and Jasmine Nibali.
After planning to leave the city with his girlfriend, a young man must first betray her in order to save his brother from a deadly situation.
Filmmaker Shannon Alexander makes his feature-length debut about two aimless brothers Wendel (Steven J. Mihaljevich) and Levi (Caleb Galati) and their equally aimless social circle. Affluent college student Sanja (Jasmine Nibali) once dated the drug using and drug dealing Wendel, before settling with the jobless, and frankly unemployable, younger brother Levi. Sanja’s liking for reckless “bad-boys” has her sister Vesna (Katherine Langford) worried, but are her concerns justified?
No doubt the marketing for this film we heavily rest on 13 Reasons Why star Katherine Langford. However, it must be said that she’s seldom in it. The majority of the film is focused on the other three misguided characters, Wendel, Levi, and Sanja.
Wendel is a carefree, quasi-sociopathic drug dealer, who has a charm and an energy that people find him irresistible. Levi is, conversely, more of an impulsive, unemployable drifter. On the surface, these two brothers look to be polar opposites, but it’s their conversations that similarities become apparent.
Shannon Alexander wrote, produced, directed, edited, and shot this film and the hands-on singular vision is apparent. Alexander’s character study is unique as it’s laced with nuances as well as stark revelations. Every interaction is far from cliches, as though each scene was purposefully designed to invert common narrative devices and character motivation. For example, Wendell asks for drugs from his regular dealer Jason (Clay Foster) but doesn’t have the money. Normally, you’d expect this exchange to be heated and to descend into violence. Nope, what happens is Jason asks for the money whenever Wendel can get it, and when it’s time to pay up Jason forgot all about it! Alexander carves out these flawed characters with conviction. It’s refreshing to behold an indie film that inverts expectations without the mumblecore, faux-philosophical smugness that is common.
As Alexander has taken the “one-man film crew” work ethics, similar to indie filmmakers Robert Rodriguez and Steven Soderberg (it’s true! look it up), he is able to enact his full vision which does have its downsides. At certain parts of the film, there are VHS-style scene transitions and visual effects. One would think these cues adds something to the plot, but such a subjective, visual style draws attention more towards the medium of film than add anything to the story. Given the well-defined character studies, and a plot that toys with cinematic tropes of deals gone bad, this visual style is just a distraction; a clear sign that a second opinion can be beneficial.
This film is advertised as a black comedy, though I’m not sure why. It works best as a dramatic character study with moments of absurd humour – Levi’s lack of self-awareness and cognitive dissonance is frustrating as well as engaging. Sanja is designed as your atypical rich, spoilt college student who wants to “rough it up” with the working/under-classes, but Nibali’s performance and the way her character is written ensures we’re looking at a naive teen making poor, impulsive choices.
The Misguided may lack in a reasonable budget with some ADR issues, but it makes up for it in original ideas.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★