While not much is said in Australian director Aaron Wilson’s small-scale first feature, “Canopy,” the film conveys volumes about war and humanity. It is an immersive experience akin to J.C. Chandor’s “All Is Lost” and Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity,” though our hero is facing off against not only nature but also man.
We first see the central character, an Australian fighter pilot (Khan Chittenden), dangling from a tree in the jungle. It is 1942, and the battle for Singapore has commenced. Now behind enemy lines, he must avoid detection by the Japanese troops who have come ashore. His provisions are meager (a compass, a map and a chocolate bar are deemed worthy of keeping), and the tropical surroundings imposing (tall grass, knee-deep mud and steam-room-level humidity).
The droning of insects is incessant, and every crack of a twig or screech of a monkey is cause for alarm. When he encounters another soldier, the initially tense confrontation gives way to a sense of relief: The fighter (Mo Tzu-yi) is Chinese. There’s comfort in the buddy system, no matter the language barrier.
For the situation his character has fallen into, a serviceable Chittenden has a limited range of expressions. Mo, however, tends to be a bit more convincing.
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Although more context would be beneficial (presumably, there’s a safe zone they are laboring to get to?), the strength of “Canopy” is its filmmaking. With this haunting work, Wilson, joined by the talented cinematographer Stefan Duscio and sound designers Rodney Lowe and Nic Buchanan, has made a promising debut.