The U.S. documentary “Uncertain” (screening at the Seattle International Film Festival) is a pondering examination of a small town tucked away at the edge of civilization – an enigmatic corner of Texas where people that have led troubled lives find shelter.
In short: Near the Texas-Louisiana border lies the small town of Uncertain – a near one-horse town with a posted population of 94 and virtually no prospects for its residents. This documentary follows several of Uncertain’s residents — some of whom have moved to the town to start over while others try to find ways to survive or escape the tiny town.
This atmospheric and cinematic documentary is a patient and stark insight at a town with little hope and its residents struggling against their inner demons to survive day-to-day. One of this doc’s subjects calls Uncertain a town where people “retire at 21” — which effectively pushes its residents to either escape the dying town or become a prisoner. The wonder of “Uncertain” is how the filmmakers present a rich and textured depiction of a town in resigned desperation. Time has corroded virtually everything in this town – everything from the lake that once sustained fishing tourism and including its residents.
This slice-of-life documentary tracks three of Uncertain’s residents. Struggling diabetic Zach, 20, has lived in isolation after CPS removed his mother from their trashed out home. He dreams of escaping Uncertain while struggling with his alcoholism and diabetes. At the other end the spectrum is elderly Henry – a lifelong resident and local fisherman who recounts a lifetime of regrets, heartache and lingering hopes. Finally, there is recovering addict Wayne – a man who has moved to Uncertain to start his life over after spending decades in-and-out of jail. He spends his days doggedly hunting his own Moby Dick — an unusually tough, lucky and smart wild boar nicknamed Mr. Ed.
To be clear, this methodically paced documentary does not move at a neck-breaking pace — rather, it moseys through the daily doings of its three featured subjects. There is an unimpressive monotony to their repetitive routines. The brilliance of “Uncertain” is allowing the slow reveal that it is no small miracle that any of these three subjects are upright at all. These three men live on a razor’s edge every day, where their own tomorrow is precarious.
This is a man-versus-vice, man-versus-pain and man-versus-animal drama that is fundamentally has a man-versus-self core that resonates universally. Despite the tragedies in their past and without much in the way of tangible reasons to hope, these three men – and the town itself – marches forward, one foot in front of the other, toward a better tomorrow.
Final verdict: “Uncertain” is a beautifully shot and haunting portrait of a town that absolutely embodies the deep pain of its residents who struggle against their inner demons to survive. This film’s take on the human spirit and aspects of regret are closer to art than the usual hard-hitting, non-fiction documentary.
This film screened at the 41st Seattle International Film Festival and is not yet rated.