Does the world really need another indie film about lost souls living quiet lives of desperation in a heaven-forsaken one-horse town? It's a question one can't help but ask 10 minutes into writer-director Tony Aloupis' directorial debut, Safelight.
A predictable melodrama set in the 1970s, Safelight is barely held together by a minimalist plot, nice photography, and some solid acting from its impressive cast, led by Evan Peters (American Horror Story) as the film's hero, Charles.
A timid 17-year-old boy who has difficulty walking - he was born with a deformed foot - Charles lives with his terminally ill father (Chicago P.D.'s Jason Beghe) in a dusty, run-down house in a tiny truck-stop of a town in the Southern California desert.
Charles is the quintessential tragic movie character. His mom left when he was 2 because she couldn't stand having a handicapped child. His dad, who barely made ends meet when healthy, has mere weeks to live. Things are just as bad at school, where he is bullied on a daily basis.
Charles' only friend and support is Peg (Christine Lahti) a heavy-drinking, thrice-divorced woman pushing 50 who employs him at her truck stop convenience store. And his only source of joy is his camera. A budding photographer, he dreams of driving up the coast to shoot all of California's lighthouses.
Even lost souls have soulmates, and Charles meets his in the lovely form of Vicki (Brit wunderkind Juno Temple), a teenage hooker who works the truck stop - that is, when she's not being chased, verbally abused, beaten up, and raped by her boyfriend-turned-pimp Skid (The Returned star Kevin Alejandro).
Perpetually coked-up, Skid is increasingly perturbed by the warm, honest, caring romance that begins to develop between the two teens, who spend their weekends going on photography excursions to lighthouses.
The story can't but end in violence.
Aloupis is not untalented as writer or helmer. But his first outing is an unsurprising, paint-by-the-numbers picture.