“Astray” is a pretty bland parable about trust, forgiveness and redemption that drives towards its fundamental moral with roughly the verve of an instructional video for social workers. It’s hard to criticize a film for sending such a positive message, but writer/director Kyle Romanek approaches the material from an elementary level and doesn’t challenge the audience enough to transcend the film’s many clichés. (The film is showing Sunday, October 12th at the Reel Independent Film Extravaganza).
The actors, at least, do what they can to sell the thing, and Romanek knows how to use a camera, capturing some beautiful northern Maryland scenery (one shot appears to be overlooking breathtaking Harpers Ferry). While on the mend from his own personal struggles, therapist Tyler (Anthony E. Williams) takes 15-year-old runaway Blaine (Christopher D. Fisher) under his wing; Blaine has left his foster home, and Tyler first sees him one night outside a rural pub where he tries to forget hours of listening to other people’s problems during the day. Tyler’s drunken, dog-kicking colleague Carl (played by Grayson Barnette) suggests that the area might be in need of some better counselors, maybe evidence of how someone like Blaine could slip through the cracks.
But Tyler is a guy with a conscience, and takes the kid on as an unofficial “out-patient” despite putting his professional and personal life in jeopardy. At first, things are on the rocks with girlfriend Liz (Diana Abrecht), but are righted rather effortlessly after a date or two; the biggest debacle will come down to the moment when Tyler either keeps his dinner commitment with Liz’s parents or heads out to save the kid from whatever fate social services deems fit for him.
Digging too far into the plot would spoil a twist that is so obvious that I didn’t even consider it, but “Astray” does capture a couple of genuinely emotional moments courtesy of Williams and DC Cathro as the owner of their local watering hole. Though the film offers little insight into the relationships, substance abuse and mental illness that it hints at, the dynamic that develops between Tyler and Blaine is enjoyable enough to watch, and I could probably see Fisher expanding his dramatic horizons in the near future.
I don’t think Romanek (who appears briefly as a patient in the beginning of the movie) was going for much more than a story of compassion here, and in that he basically succeeds. But the consequences of Tyler’s altruism are too simplified to evoke any real anxiety about the situation. I fall squarely in the middle on this one: good message, but not very compelling overall.