Nightstream is a collaborative virtual film festival, started in 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It continues this year and is being presented by the Boston Underground Film Festival, Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, North Bend Film Festival, and The Overlook Film Festival. Proceeds from the festival go to the filmmakers and also to several charities. I highly suggest checking out their website for more info on the event. A variety of films include feature-length productions and shorts are scheduled. The following review contains spoilers, so reader beware!
To The Moon is from director and writer Scott Friend, who also stars as Dennis. Partially funded through Indiegogo and only made by a handful of people, it’s a very small story. Dennis and his wife Mia head to his family’s house in the woods for a weekend getaway to decompress. Recently fired from an acting job on TV, Dennis is also dealing with drug withdrawal symptoms—nightmares, chills, sweats—so he’s already set up as having an out-of-control life and is attempting to get back on track. Mia, on the other hand, is dealing with the repercussions of an ice-skating injury. While practising overlead lifts, her partner dropped her. Mia laments about this and seems skeptical that it was truly an accident. On top of this, the couple is trying to get pregnant and possibly had a miscarriage several months ago.
Then Roger, Dennis’s brother who he hasn’t seen in years, shows up. Wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit (that looks very comfortable, to be honest), Roger is really into spiritualism and encourages the couple to get in touch with their emotions and join him in pseudo-yoga. He offhandedly mentions being in the hospital. I’m not sure if this was to imply he was in a psychiatric facility, but that’s the impression I get. Dennis is pretty uncomfortable with Roger’s new persona. The yellow jumpsuit is the most vivid and memorable part of the film and really stands out against the muted colours of the house and woods.
Immediately, she finds disturbing scribbles clearly written by a child in a medical textbook but brushes it off. He sees a mysterious cloaked person in the woods who does not respond when greeted.
Dennis and Mia are clearly going through a lot together, and each has their battles. “You’re the first person who made me not hate who I was,” he tells Mia.
Roger helps them both by giving advice. He notices Mia’s large triangle peach moonstone, which is believed to help with both depression and promote fertility. A shot of this crystal actually opens the film. He also introduces them to a type of red berries, claiming they have healing properties and that he will make it into tea for them later.
During a healing talk with Mia, Roger says he can feel a tiny little soul floating around her, trying to reconnect with her soul. Does he know about their miscarriage? While this is happening, Dennis is sitting by himself outside, eating the berries. He begins to hallucinate, which will become a running theme in the film, and both Dennis and the viewer are unsure whether these events are real, hallucinated from the berries, or from the drug withdrawal.
Soon the events come to a head—what starts as a fun, silly sibling tussle ends with Dennis yelling at his brother for almost throwing tracking powder at him. Later, during dinner, Dennis goes off on Roger for being a jerk to him during their childhood, like pushing him out of a treehouse, causing him to break his arm in three places, or pawning family jewelry, and finally disappearing for years. Mia tries to mediate, frustrated. He’s just trying to help, and you keep pushing him away, she tells her husband.
I’ll be honest: sometimes watching films like this where the majority of the story is based around interpersonal drama gets boring. I can’t help but backseat a bit; just talk to each other! Communicate! I get that the point is how things can break down when people are dishonest with each other. Family can also be very manipulative and awful as well, with Roger planting drugs in Dennis’s suitcase, wearing a wig to confuse him, and talking smack about him in the middle of the night.
The film’s climax involves Roger trying to shoot up Dennis with the drugs (I’m presuming to cause him to overdose). Mia, heavily drugged from the berries and dancing, snaps out of it and beats Roger to death with her moonstone crystal. She buries him in the woods and tells Dennis he was just hallucinating, that none of these events even happened. So now she has her own secrets to keep as the couple returns home.
To The Moon is another very low-key film made with a handful of people, and I find that very commendable. The camerawork and sets are homey and simple, with muted colours featured as I mentioned earlier. Considering the Indiegogo campaign was in 2019, this project has been in the works for a few years, and that’s an incredible accomplishment. However…it’s not really for me. It’s a bit dull; I feel like Friend could have pushed this story more, gone in more weird directions like the cultist-like figure that appears for a moment to Dennis both at the beginning and near the end. It was probably another hallucination, but it would be interesting to use that more. I’m not a filmmaker, though!
Nightstream is an online event taking place from October 7th through the 13th.