Bold, raw and unforgettable

Winnipeg filmmaker Sean Garrity’s latest is a gritty, fearless, emotionally devastating experience

Zooey (Daria Puttaert, left) and Adam (Tom Keenan) share a tense pause in Sean Garrity’s emotional thriller Zooey and Adam, which opens this week at the Cinematheque.

Zooey & Adam
Dir. by Sean Garrity, 2009
85 minutes
Plays at the Cinematheque Friday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 30 – Thursday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m.

While Zooey and Adam, the latest by endlessly inventive Winnipeg filmmaker Sean Garrity, may not the most controversial film I’ve seen this year, it could be the most raw.

Made on a shoestring budget of $6,000, the film follows the lives of married couple Zooey (Daria Puttaert) and Adam (Tom Keenan) as their relationship is stretched beyond its breaking point. The film feels more like a documentary or a home video than a scripted production. The graininess of the overall picture, as well as the hand-held camera feel, along with the choppy zooms and awkward cuts, give the film a far more authentic atmosphere than if it had been crisp and smooth, like your average production.

Much of the emotional weight of the film rests on Garrity’s ability to convince us that these are characters that are not only believable, but are worth investing in and caring about. It’s here that he overwhelmingly succeeds.

In telling the couple’s tragic tale, Garrity is certainly not afraid of taking risks, and it pays off handsomely.

The story begins with Zooey and Adam attempting, in a creative and always enjoyable manner, to conceive a child. This overwhelming desire for offspring of their own creates as much tension as it relieves, as Adam fears that he might be sterile, and Zooey worries that she might waste the child-bearing years she has left without ever having a baby to hold. All this comes to a screeching halt as the couple, while camping near West Hawk Lake, is assaulted by a group of men. Zooey is raped while Adam is held down, forced to watch in horror.

Garrity takes a careful approach to this shocking sequence, keeping its gravity intact, as all that is shown are shaken flashlights and unstable silhouettes, accompanied by horrifying sounds and helpless screams.

Local actors Puttaert and Keenan deserve profuse recognition for fearlessly taking on these deeply disturbed characters and giving them their all. This is make-it or break-it filmmaking, and if either actor hadn’t put in such outstanding and brave performances, then the film would have little to stand on.

As the couple’s story unravels, the emotional weight of the film is draining.

Zooey becomes pregnant with what could be her attacker’s child. Adam, meanwhile, struggles to cope and is haunted by his inability to prevent the attack as well as his frightening suspicion that Zooey’s child isn’t his. The couple are left with the choice of whether or not they keep a child that may not be their own.

This is bold and raw filmmaking, like a visceral punch in the chest that knocks you off your seat and leaves you breathless.

Published in Volume 64, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 28, 2010)

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