Kewan Harrison’s senior thesis film, “Chasing Embers,” will premiere in Reamer auditorium this Saturday at 3:30. It concerns Karl Smith, a retired detective who believes he has stumbled upon the answer to a years-long kidnapping investigation when a gruff hunter trespasses on his property. The hunter speaks with the shakiness of someone keeping a few secrets, but the detective’s wife Ryanne remains dubious. Did Karl really just solve the mystery of a lifetime, or is he simply floundering around in his headspace, led on by paranoia?
Smith speaks his case with unshakeable certainty, but in his lonely moments his eyes sink with doubt. He admits he drinks more than he should, but he does little about it. He lives out his late stages in an isolated farmhouse on the edge of wilderness, where niggling loose threads swelter into all-consuming obsession. Ryanne takes notice and soon enough becomes a sustained voice of doubt. The drinking continues.
“This is the biggest project we’ve ever worked on,” Harrison explained in the editing room. When I walked in, editor/cinematographer Joseph Laub was using the power of Adobe After Effects to map out a red-coated straggler from the back of a shot.
Then he showed me how he superimposed a New York license plate on the back of a pickup truck, and how he blended it with the color palette. The plates they shot were out of state and would ruin the immersion if they made it to the final cut.
In order to realize their vision on such a low budget, they hired local Schenectady actors, borrowed drones and five-foot cinesliders, and accumulated props through Craigslist and the college. They hauled equipment out to a gloomy woods a few hours drive away for shooting.
“We called in every favor we could,” they said. Harrison, a film major, has helmed a number of short films including the mafia assassination tale, “Brutes,” which ran about ten minutes. “Chasing Embers” runs almost forty.
The drone shots look as good as any helicopter fly-by. This is the kind of slow-burn that lives on long stretches of road, with very little to look at on either side but battered mailboxes and bare trees.
The detective’s home took on a muted, natural glow. It’s the sort of place one could catch a little wintertime cabin fever. The cast embody their small-town characters with very little “acting” on display.
The effect is reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s snowy thriller “A Simple Plan,” in which three brothers find a fortune stashed aboard a crashed plane in the middle of the woods. “Chasing Embers,” similarly, forces together the types of people who act on flares of anger and questionable morals far away from where anyone would see. Kewan Harrison and Joeseph Laub take the crime procedural to an uncertain winter landscape that hums with anxiety.