Confident Debut Dead Man’s Burden Tries a Turn at a Mythic Genre


The weight of genre is a curious thing. First-time filmmakers venturing into codified realms of storytelling can get trapped by anxiety of influence, either rebelling too harshly against norms or overzealously embracing them. Director Jared Moshe does neither in his assured debut feature, Dead Man’s Burden. A western with some unexpected noir elements, the film takes on two of the most iconic genres in American cinema, yet treats its story with quiet, matter-of-fact confidence, rather than overly stylizing it to align with notions of romanticized myth. Civil War defector Wade McCurry (Barlow Jacobs) returns home after a long absence to investigate his father’s death, which he believes may not have been an accident, as his sister, Martha (Clare Bowen), and her husband, Heck (David Call), claim. As Wade plumbs deeper, detective-style, his relationship with his family dramatically shifts. A potential buyer of the family’s land (E.J. Lane) further complicates the tangled web that is revealed. Dead Man’s Burden is a fine example of economical storytelling, with the action mainly relegated to the McCurry home, and a refreshing respite from filmmakers who believe the only low-budget option is to stay firmly ensconced in their own milieu. Much credit, too, must go to director of photography Robert Hauer, whose images gesture to the hallmarks of this mythic genre (The Searchers is a frequent reference point) while adding sophisticated contemporary elements of cinematography, like the baroque lens flares that occasionally dominate the frame.