LA Film Festival: ‘Moss’ Remains Consistently Inert

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Films such as “Mud” or “Winter’s Bone” in recent years have provided a unique look into rural America. Andrea Arnold’s opus “American Honey” also depicts a journey of rebellious youth unleashed as they journey through the flyover states. “Moss,” a Southern coming-of-age tale, hopes to channel the same aloof energy in bringing life to its river setting. However, the film seems more like a languid cinematography reel than a fleshed out narrative film.

Moss (Mitchell Slaggert) finds the wounds of his mother’s death, who died during childbirth, conjured up on his eighteenth birthday. He struggles to connect with his father (Billy Ray Suggs), which sends him off to get high with his “river rat” friend Blaze (Dorian Cobb). Paddling back home, Moss encounters a new face, Mary (Christina Marzano). She is an older woman looking to walk up to New York. The two spend an eye-opening day together, only for Moss to fall more deeply for Mary than she has for him.

One could forgive the bare bones plot if the film had created a unique portrait of a teen struggling to jump into adulthood. However, the arc that comes through has been done before and done better. This character holds onto a wealth of pain that writer/director Daniel Peddle only explores on a surface level. The central relationship between Moss and Mary rather blatantly seems to be an oedipal cry out for a mother figure. However, their tryst falls into the same rhythm of all the other actions in the film. Moss runs from those around him. He gets high. Then he falls into another situation and whines about his Dad. The pattern lulls the film into repetition and does not allow viewers to engage or dig further into the character.

Peddle exudes more skill as a director than as a writer. He possesses a nice visual flair that feels at home with the simple beauty lurking in the river. However, he seems content to wallow in the mood and feel of the setting. This leaves little to propel the thin plot of the film forward. Even at a brisk 81 minutes, the film meanders, almost as if it is trying to fill time. Perhaps working with on a script written by another writer, or hiring a co-writer, will allow Peddle to unlock his potential as a director.

Mitchell Slaggert shows some acting chops as the emotionally stunted, vulnerable young man. However, he doesn’t have much to work with and finds less to elevate about the character. There is plenty of drama going on in his life related to his mother’s death. However, baldly announcing such motivations and demons does little to clue us in to this character. Similarly, Christina Marzano has very little to convey in Mary. She is just a wandering soul with a penchant for dispensing drugs to barely legal men. There could be interesting elements to explore regarding how she ended up along this river. However, Marzano’s character comes off as more of a plot point rather than a fleshed out person.

One loves to support independent filmmaking, but there are some traps that indie filmmakers tend to fall for. “Moss” seems to have all these issues in spades. The script is bald, the plot is thin and there is an over reliance on ambiance to compensate for these deficiencies. There is talent both behind and in front of the camera. Let’s just hope their next endeavors are more engaging.

“Moss” premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival. For more Los Angeles Film Festival coverage, visit the Festivals section.

Grade: (★1/2)

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