11.55_2Year: 2016
Director(s): Ari Issler, Ben Snyder
Writer(s): Victor Almanzar, Ari Issler, Ben Snyder
Region of Origin: US
Rating: Unrated
Color, 80 mins

Synopsis: Returning to his hometown, U.S. Marine Nelson Sanchez finds himself trapped by the violent past he had tried to escape. (Source)

We can run from our past, but there’s no guarantee we can ever truly escape it. Ari Issler and Ben Snyder’s directorial debut, 11:55, is a powerful exploration of this idea, presenting the past as an omnipresent ghost that hangs over the entire film like a cloud of immutable fate. It’s an urgent thriller that makes for a compelling watch, leading to an ending that forces us to ask hard questions.

When U.S. Marine Nelson Sanchez (Victor Almanzar) returns to Newburgh, New York, after a tour in Afghanistan, his family and the world he left behind has grown in different ways. Still, he’s accepted with open arms and starting again brings with it a renewed sense of vitality. When a gangster from Nelson’s unsavory past, Nicky Quinn (Mike Carlsen), learns of his homecoming however, he’s on the next bus into town and set to arrive just before midnight. Nelson’s sister Angie (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and girlfriend Livvy (Shirley Rumierk) suggest they skip town, but he’s hesitant to leave everything behind for a second time. Realizing that he’s prolonged the inevitable long enough, he decides to confront his past in order to face his future.

Without a doubt, the film’s shining aspect is its performances, headlined by a piercing Victor Almanzar. Almanzar brings a great depth to Nelson without needing to say much. His walk, demeanor, and the entire opening sequence of him re-entering and observing the world he once knew is astounding. Most of the film’s realism and urgency comes from the way he’s able to embody the film’s silent, internal struggles. Rodriguez is incredible as Angie, stealing every moment she’s on screen. A highlight of the film has her confronting a group of Nelson’s friends as they refusing to stand with him – she helps to deepen the stakes with sincerity. Carlsen, ultimately, isn’t given enough as the big bad Nicky. Staring off into nothingness for too long, he comes off a bit wooden, but contrasts appropriately to Almanzar’s stoic delivery.

11.55_3The film’s setting adds to the slowly mounting tension, making use of the rough, upstate New York area to provide a great backdrop for Nelson’s desperate mindset. Crumbling brick and abandoned buildings show that the life Nelson once lived is gone, leading to a reminder of perpetual motion – that the future doesn’t wait for us to be ready, it’ll be there no matter what.

Ultimately the film plays out very much like a classic Western or Samurai film, painting a picture of impending doom that can’t be easily waved away. It’s a nice portrait of inevitability, even if multiple shots of clocks and time stamps give way to a few moments of deflated momentum along the way. Still, the script is pretty tight, commanding a bleak atmosphere and giving Almanzar a breakthrough role that’s definitely worth checking out. 11:55 is a solid, intimate study that confronts the relationship between our past and our future.