Film

Smart Suspense — and a Great Performance — Make ‘Uncle John’ a Must-See Thriller

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Uncle John (John Ashton) is up to something.

As this slow-burning but compelling psychological thriller opens, John appears to be disposing of a body. Later, he plays dumb when neighbors in his Illinois farm town begin wondering if a recently reformed troublemaker named Dutch has been murdered. Dutch’s brother, Danny (Ronnie Gene Blevins), sure thinks so, and he’s looking John’s way.

First-time director Steven Piet and co-writer Erik Crary have devised a narrative where the suspense is built entirely around the possibility that the dark, intensely felt secondary nature of the ever affable John might be revealed. In a parallel narrative, Ben (Alex Moffat), a Chicago graphic designer, begins a tentative affair with his boss, Kate (Jenna Lyng). Ben is winsome, but over time, we’re made to see that he too is hiding an interior edge. John and Ben are intimately connected, just as John and the missing Dutch are connected, but it wouldn’t be fair to reveal how.

It definitely takes Piet too long to get Ben and Kate out to John’s farm, but when he does, Uncle John suddenly becomes a taut thriller. Trouble ensues, but thanks to Ashton’s brilliant, career-defining performance, we’re made to see that the only thing worse than doing evil deeds is being nice enough to feel guilty about them.

Uncle John

Directed by Steven Piet

FilmBuff

Opens September 18, Village East Cinema

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