Review by Mark Schwab
April 11th, 2018
I sometimes forget that I live in a bubble here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ensconced if you will on the "left coast" as most right-wing talk show hosts proclaim with a sneer in their voice. The situation that arises out of writer/director D.R. Tibbits' short film PINEBOX would be much harder to take root here. Thankfully.
But not everyone lives where I live. Plenty of Americans live in smaller towns with values that don't get challenged, get called out for their exclusiveness or exposed for the hurt they can cause to people who just might be different from themselves. PINEBOX takes a carefully crafted approach by using the innate quietness of a funeral home to expose a lesson of tolerance without the shouting, finger pointing and scenery-chewing melodramatics. It's a wise move that pays off nicely.
The story begins in grief (and never really leaves it) where two teenage boys in a small town have died. Two dead sons, two sets of grieving parents, two different funerals. We then meet Merle (Kevin Breznahan of BILLIONS), a janitor at the funeral home who has a bit of Forrest Gump about him - he's slow to speak, socially awkward and spends a lot of time by himself making coffins out of simple pine boards that no one uses or appreciates.
Problems erupt around this tragedy though when one set of parents starts feeling the price crunch of the impending funeral. Coffins are expensive and when the funeral home director starts talking about payment plans and credit, the father (Cameron Dye) balks and storms out. The mother (Ann Magnuson) though wants to give her dead son a lovely service too and seeks out the kind Merle to try and impose upon his boss to cut the price. She even shows him a picture of her dead son with the other boy to appeal to his heart and when Merle innocently asks "Were they cousins or something?" and she shyly answers "Something...yeah.", it's beautifully obvious what is going on here. Merle, ever the innocent, feels that maybe his odd hobby of crafting those simple pinebox coffins could help the grieving family.
Tibbits has put together an incredibly strong cast for a short film from Breznahan to Ann Magnuson (who's always terrific in everything she does, from MAKING MISTER RIGHT to DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN) to Cameron Dye (a staple from my 80's childhood in THE LAST STARFIGHTER) and they are all absolutely excellent. Especially Magnuson - her performance is just heartbreaking as the mother and it's great to see her here.
PINEBOX isn't perfect - it sometimes feels like an afterschool special version of a SIX FEET UNDER episode - but I really liked how it brought up homophobia without ever mentioning the actual words around it (i.e. gay, homosexual, queer, etc.). It's not dodging it either - subtly keeping it as the elephant in the room per se actually works to make it loom larger around the tragedy. With extremely strong performances and a genuinely haunting last shot that hits hard, PINEBOX is a worthy reminder that love is spelled with the same four letters no matter who it might be between.