In Burnt Norton, T.S. Eliot reflects that “time present and time past” also resides in “time future.” With her evocative and refreshingly subtle feature Those Left Behind, director Maria Finitzo weaves the story of a family where time is as still as the tranquil surroundings of their lake house.
Shelly (Daphne Zuniga) is a doctor who brings life into the world. Although she’s raised a loving son (Jack Griffo) and derives joy from her career, she continues to deeply mourn the loss of her brother Jamie (Grant Jordan) who committed suicide over 25 years ago.
Now Shelly is back at the lake house to reconnect with her parents (Debra Mooney is Shelly’s mom) and give her son and his girlfriend (Alyssa Steinacker) a summer to remember.
Navigating a family drama is a tricky situation, and thankfully Finitzo, a lifelong documentary filmmaker, doesn’t veer her story into maudlin territories. Rather, her passion lies in conveying, in the simplest measures, on how Shelly, Peg (Mooney), and Robert (Hogan) have dealt with Jamie’s death. Cinematographer Raquel Fernandez captures a huge portion of the tale in what appears to be natural light, and the wistful, nearly golden glow of Shelly’s childhood residence brings a visually poetic texture to the proceedings.
Acting stalwarts Zuniga, Hogan, and Mooney have delivered excellent performances throughout their career, so having them serve as the spine of Those Left Behind was a creative coup for Finitzo. The movie’s biggest surprise comes from magnetic newcomer Annie Read who effectively captures Shelly’s deep love and compassion for her troubled brother (Grant Jordan also strikes the right notes in the film – both actors shine in their respective roles). Griffo, who is best known for his work in The Thundermans, also has a deceptively challenging role as Noah. Bonding with his girlfriend, reestablishing his connection with his grandparents, and lending emotional support to his mother are Noah’s priorities, and Griffo’s natural ease in playing Noah also adds to the film’s luster.
Stewart Reeves’ editing is also top notch, as the story seamlessly blends different timelines with some interesting cuts (my favorite edit deals with pancake batter). The movie’s score is also measured and contemplative, and while some dramas use over arching music to immediately draw out our tears, Those Left Behind’s truest notes are derived from the actual story (imagine that!).
Finitzo crafts a visually and emotionally compelling drama on how to live with the loss of a loved one and, as most of us can attest, there is no simple way to proceed. The film’s closing moments, which shows a loving conversation off into the distance, doesn’t aim for the proverbial home run or saccharine happy ending. Time, past or present, near or far, is always of the essence, and thankfully Those Left Behind resides in those waters.
— Those Left Behind (@TLBfilm) February 1, 2016
*****Lastly, here’s a teaser of CinemAddicts, a movie review podcast I do with Anderson Cowan. Our main goal is to spotlight quality films that may be slipping through the cracks. We discuss the new film King Jack below (and btw, I did this video before watching Those Left Behind – which obviously I also highly recommend!):