The biggest issue with Scott Teems‘ new drama The Quarry is that the story feels truncated. Sometimes knowing a story will be resolved adds dramatic stakes and the storyteller only has a limited time to payoff the narrative. But in the case of The Quarry, it feels like Teems is at a starting point with an obvious conclusion rather than the start of a bigger narrative that better accommodates the themes he wishes to explore. Instead, The Quarry feels like a simple morality play about the impossibility of building penance on top of sin. The performances from lead actors Shea Whigham, Michael Shannon, and Catalina Sandino Moreno are all terrific, but frequently it feels like we’re just skimming the surface of a much deeper story.
Traveling preacher David Martin (Bruno Bichir) finds a drifter (Whigham) passed out on the side of the road. Martin tends to the man, gives him food and water, and then tries to save his soul. For his trouble, the drifter beats Martin to death, buries his body in a quarry, and steals his identity. The drifter arrives in the town masquerading as the preacher, and since no one has seen David Martin before in this small, primarily immigrant community, they accept that the preacher is who he says he is. The drifter tries to lay low, but starts forging connections with people in the community like his host Celia (Moreno) and the local police chief, Moore (Shannon). However, the drifter’s crime begins to weigh on him as a local tough, Valentin (Bobby Soto), is suspected for Martin’s murder.
Watching The Quarry, I wanted the story to extend beyond the confines of a film, which is rare, because I usually find prestige TV shows too long and drawn out. But the character questions that Teems poses with this premise are intriguing and lend themselves well to long-form explorations on the nature of penance, repentance, and sin. But within the confines of a feature film, The Quarry simply becomes an editorial about these topics. The dramatic tension of the film wants to be whether or not the drifter will be discovered, but the richness of the movie comes from his emerging conscience and his connection with the community. These are relationships and ideas that deserve further exploration than what they receive here, which is largely composed of the drifter feeling guilty and furtive over his actions.
There’s also a subtext here of how Americans treat Mexican immigrants. The drifter ministers to a congregation comprised largely of Mexican immigrants who don’t even speak English (a member of the congregation translates for him), but he’s also willing to let another Mexican resident take the fall for his crime. The film shows that it’s easy to read from the Bible and take the nice lessons from it, but when it comes to being tested by those lessons, the good book may not be enough if the sinner hasn’t fully reckoned with his sin. Unfortunately, the characters are so thinly drawn that the drifter is more of an archetype than a person despite Whigham’s soulful performance.
I like the ideas that The Quarry offers, but I wanted more of them. These characters are good starting points, but without time to really flesh them out or delve into their conflicts, they function more like waypoints for certain ideas. Moore exists to talk about the shortcomings of forgiveness, but there’s not much to his personality beyond his affair with Celia. The Drifter is a man with a past, but is he a rotten guy, or is there more nuance there? Is he a person or merely a symbol for the ideas that Teems and co-writer Andrew Brotzman wish to convey? The Quarry could have been a much deeper story in the right medium, but as a film, it’s a shallow plot.
The Quarry is available on VOD on April 17th.