With a list of credits reading like a Gloucestershire school yearbook, ‘Inland’ arrived at Stroud Film Festival on Friday night to a sold-out theatre.
The debut by Gloucester’s writer-director Fridtjof Ryder delivers a brave but uneasy folk tale that follows a young man trying to find his place in a world that threatens to move on after the disappearance of his mother, utilising the unsaid to convey the awkward rawness and unquantifiable nature of grief and mental health conditions.
Rory Alexander plays The Man, a call to The Green Man legend symbolising rebirth, who moves back to his father’s house after a period in an institution, still battling inside with a loss he can’t vocalise, instead seeking solace in solitude and occasionally a shady late-night bar. The cinematography partners Alexander’s strong performance, with extreme close-ups allowing his torture to shine through.
The Man’s father is played by BAFTA winner Mark Rylance, Ryder finally having persuaded him to join the cast after posting the script through his letterbox after writing the role of Dunleavy solely with the Bridge of Spies (2016) actor in mind. It’s this act of bravery that should bring the production together and Rylance gives a stellar performance, bringing his emotion right to the surface but never allowing the dialogue to become too serious through his anecdotes about pack dogs or practical jokes involving juice, capturing a grieving father who struggles to connect meaningfully to his son when neither can put their anguish into words.
Unfortunately, Rylance and Alexander’s partnership is the strongest aspect of the production and lacked the screen time to really drive where the story was heading.
Filmed in Stroud and Gloucester on the outskirts of The Forest of Dean, the green woods where The Man’s mother goes missing play a part in Alexander’s character development, never straying too far away from his connection to Mother Nature.
Dunleavy’s front door threatens to become overgrown with weeds and his living room towers over the forest with nothing else to see from the sliding French doors. Alexander drives away in the dead of night but only escapes to another section of greenery. The singular cut to a housing estate, all bricks and no grass, gives the viewer a brief pause for breath from the wilderness. Close-ups and sound effects complement the suffocating feeling, the sound of leather stretching as The Man’s body contorts and the silence that accompanies his screams are FX highlights.
Every facet of this picture is intended to leave us unsatisfied and Ryder’s abrupt final scene leaves questions as intended, but it also denies the viewer two character developments with huge potential. Rylance’s final monologue falls flat because there’s no sign the film has reached its crescendo and Alexander is not offered a character-defining response.
Ryder admits to having written different parts of the script on random note pages in his phone before piecing them together and the narrative suffers. Regardless, a small budget has gone a long way to create strong visuals with fascinating sound from a core creative team all dipping their toes into the industry and Ryder’s debut gives enough of a showing to get you excited for his next project.