Another deep diver into the refreshing waters of the indie scene; Canadian writer/director Frankie Gaddo isn’t a name I was familiar with, he’s made a few shorts and this is his debut feature, screening now on Plex and Prime right now in the US, and Tubi soon. Orangutan isn’t about apes or animals, it’s a tight little drama about a group of strangers attending a counselling session. Unlike many debuts, it’s dialogue heavy, but that’s a plus with a game cast and a few big ideas that mark Gaddo’s film out as being well worth the recommend.
Siara (Jan Kamar) is a social worker with ambitions beyond her lowly status; she works in a coffee shop to make ends meet. She’s collected a motley crew of people to attend a self-help session, but quickly finds that her good intentions are swamped by the adults acting out in different, sometimes aggressive ways. One of Siara’s charges is a teenage girl, who just happens to be reading Hamlet and dismisses it with the line ‘to be or not to be…’ That existential question mirrors Siara’s intent and purpose; what is the point of life, and why is it worth living?
One of the group (Brent Baird) immediately kicks things off on a bum note when he announces his plan to murder his wife, making the group an accessory, and that’s just the start of Siara’s issues here. Beatrice (Caro Coltman) is grieving her recently deceased cat, while Mike D Smith plays a taciturn businessman who turns the tables on Siara when she pushes his buttons once too often. And Mat Holmlund plays a young man looking for love in all the wrong places. Or is he?
Orangutan ends with a good twenty minutes of sunrises, sunsets and other artful photography of the world around us; it’s not just filler, but reflects Siara’s own world-view; the finale links directly to a striking scene in which she leads the group outside to watch the snow fall, but also to try and understand her positivism about the world, an attitude that’s under assault from the rebarbative experience portrayed here. This is a small but well-constructed and directed film, a welcome home-grown alternative to mainstream, more commercial fare.