SLEIGHT lives up to what I imagine was its elevator pitch: “like Spiderman, but with magnets. And drugs. Oh, and thugs, too.” The film follows the mishaps of young illusionist, Bo (Jacob Latimore), as he attempts to extract himself from the drug-addled underworld of Los Angeles using his talent and passion for street magic. Should you be looking for an interesting, but nonetheless small, twist on a formulaic story, then SLEIGHT is your ticket.
Despite its stutters, SLEIGHT relishes in its illusions. Shots of magic tricks and references to magical greats pepper the sets and scenes; the gore (yes, there is gore) needed to achieve these illusions is also impressive. Jacob Latimore is believable and charming, making it no wonder his character, Bo, attracts love interest Holly (Seychelle Gabriel). Most of the time, though, rapid or sluggish editing of shot-reverse-shots muddies what chemistry could have been between these characters. The rough gear shifts in the editing also do no favors for the very stilted background acting during the sequences featuring Bo’s street magic. None of the acting is actually unwatchable, it is just hindered.
Cinematographer Ed Wu is the true break-out star from SLEIGHT. The film’s visual style is cohesive, brooding, and crisp. In some ways, the many sprawling, B-roll shots of Los Angeles make better use of the city than the much more self-proud LA LA LAND. Working in tandem with an adept sound department, Wu and director J.D. Dillard achieved expressive aesthetic textures far beyond the narrative capacities of the film. If SLEIGHT is a testament to anything, it surely goes out of its way to steep as many of its shots in visual storytelling as possible.
The fact J.D. Dillard (co-writer/director) and Alex Theurer (co-writer) developed SLEIGHT from a short-subject works for, and against, the film. Sure, the glittering shots of LA power grids add depth to the film, but they seem to only be there because there was not enough story to fill a 90-minute runtime. While the film’s cool, underlying concept is cleanly composed, the details needed to push it to excellence are not fully fleshed. Specifically, so much time is spent pumping the lost academic potential of Bo, but the film itself rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of basic physics. It’s hard to get over it. Gold? Sure, that’s magnetic. Coins? Also magnetic. Newton’s Second Law of Motion? Eh, not for magnets!
With all of the post-Sundance buzz around it, SLEIGHT is hard to overlook. While it may not be the easiest watch for cine-sticklers, it is a formidable first feature for a new class of filmmakers. Word on the interwebs these days is J.D. Dillard may be directing the new remake of THE FLY. Let’s hope he brings his fresh style – and not his narrative gloss – to the beloved franchise.