Watching a small, quiet thriller like THE QUARRY is a firm reminder that casting is still one of cinema’s greatest special effects. There’s just no substitute for a pair of well-placed performers pitting their auras against each other on-screen.
Directed and co-written by Scott Teems (Rectify, That Evening Sun) and based on a novel by Damon Galgut, THE QUARRY‘s main trick is the casting of its two leads – Shea Whigham (HBO regular and perpetually interesting “that guy” in many movies) as a fugitive who murders a traveling preacher and assumes his identity in a small, dilapidated Texas town; and Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Shape of Water) as sinister Police Chief Moore, who begins to suspect the mysterious preacher plays a role in his murder investigation.
The investigation plot itself is relatively simple and straightforward, giving the story room to take on a morality-play/biblical-fable quality. The filmmaking is pretty straightforward as well, favoring still shots and tempered pacing over everything else. The only thing about the film you might call “flashy” or “stylized” is it’s foreboding, ambient score, which effectively injects a strong sense of dread over the whole piece.
As our nameless drifter begins to preach to the town congregation, largely made up of immigrants, he wins them over with his humble words read directly from the bible. “I just read the words, I’m not the one you’re here for.” He tells a woman in the congregation, unaware that his “sinner’s” position of non-judgment is the very thing that contrasts him with the local authority figure Chief Moore. Even as he wins the town over, we get a sense that things aren’t going to end well for him. The drifter/preacher represents New Testament morality while Chief Moore is Old Testament justice. As the ripple effect of the drifter’s crimes and Moore’s subsequent investigation is felt by the town, the feeling that Old Testament justice will win out becomes unshakable.
The casting of Whigham in the lead role is the film’s true stroke of genius, especially when so much else in the movie doesn’t feel overly exciting or particularly unexpected (not that it’s really meant to). A million other movies like this would’ve cast a younger, more traditionally handsome actor in the role. When a seasoned character actor like Whigham gets a center-stage opportunity like this one, the results are usually quite special, even more so because it happens so rarely.
Point is, THE QUARRY is an amiable and decent little Western-thriller – not necessarily essential 2020 viewing, but if there’s a hook, it’s in the casting. If you’re a fan, even only marginally, of either Whigham or Shannon, THE QUARRY is well worth the extra time you might have during quarantine for a 98-minute, dialogue-heavy movie. As it hums along on a resonant, albeit somber frequency, it’s biblical explorations of sin, redemption, mercy, and justice couldn’t be more proficiently executed by way of Whigham’s and Shannon’s respectively rare talents. THE QUARRY arrives On Demand this Friday, April 17th, 2020.