Review by Mark Schwab
March 12th, 2017
Loneliness. Isolation. Quiet desperation. These were the feelings that went through my mind as I watched the latest film from director Douglas Reese (THE TRASH, WARWICK). This is not a bad thing of course as I have had the pleasure of watching Reese hone his craft and explore his creative output. His distinct style of long takes , minimal dialogue and "real time" situations may be off-putting to some but I would urge them to check this one out as I feel it is some of Reese's strongest work in a number of ways.
MIGRAINE mainly focuses on two separate sets of characters that merge a little bit towards the end. One is a couple (director Reese and Alexis Day) that is obviously struggling with communication and passion as they silently go through the mundane motions of domesticity. The other is a troubled young songwriter (Trace Hazelbaker) desperate to win back his girlfriend (Joi Itapson). Toggling between these two plots works well here with the deadly ennui of the couple contrasting sharply with the bottled up anger and confusion of the young songwriter. It creates a nice and consistent tension from the outset this time instead of in bits and pieces in Reese's previous works.
This is also Reese's visually strongest film by far. The opening 10 minutes at a farm are truly beautiful with big league composition and perfect use of light and shadow - it's a great opening and set up for the mood and tone of the rest of the film. Most of the movie takes place in the heart of Cincinnati and once again Reese makes it work by taking what should be "ordinary" structures (a playground, a hotel skybridge) and using them to create a distinct mood. I really loved the way he placed his characters within these places - usually "small", like they are being overwhelmed by their situation. You could take a still from any of these shots and frame it on a wall.
As the brooding songwriter, Trace Hazelbaker has to carry a lot of the movie and fortunately he is perfectly cast. He has a number of effective scenes (especially one where we watch him try to desperately lay down a studio vocal track - just excellent) and conveys quite a bit with his body language. It plays like a realized character and a well-directed performance and not like someone who just showed up and made up his own lines.
The only flaw here is the ending which is just too abrupt. It doesn't quite finish in a totally satisfying way and I could have easily watched these characters for another 20-30 minutes. Nevertheless the strong visuals, focused performances and haunting score (by Reese himself) leave no question for me that MIGRAINE is Douglas Reese's best all-around narrative film to date.