Dree Hemingway and Lakeith Stanfield in Live Cargo (Gunpowder & Sky Distribution)

This first feature film by Logan Sandler lets the lens do most of the talking, much in the same way Terrence Malick has done in his recent films The Tree of Life, To the Wonder, and Knight of Cups, or in Harmony Korine’s Gummo, Trash Humpers, and Spring Breakers. Set on a remote island in the Bahamas, Live Cargo is shot completely in black-and-white, utilizing extreme close-ups. Story comes secondary to mood, taking in everything around the characters. A tropical storm is not shown rather than informed through fast-paced cuts of clouds forming and raindrops beating against leaves—Malick’s style to a T. Rather than showing the squall on screen, the aftermath of bodies floating on the water is violent enough and leaves a more devastating impression.

The dialogue comes in between long, quixotic tracking shots through coral reefs, time-lapsed skyscapes, and local children running on dirt roads, wonderful visual moments that would be put to great use in a perfume commercial, but with so little story going on, these interstitials make the film seem like a short subject stretched to feature length.

Because the story is so very brief, writing a synopsis runs the risk of giving the whole film away. A couple, Nadine and Lewis, played by Dree Hemingway (Starlet) and Lakeith Stanfield (Short Term 12, and a small but memorable performance in Get Out), have come to the island where Nadine’s father used to bring her as a child. The couple’s relationship has strained due to a recent loss, and while Lewis wants to use this retreat as a time to reconnect, Nadine wants to party it up and leave their troubles back home. Robert Wisdom from The Wire plays Roy, the island’s mayor who has known Nadine since she was a child. Roy serves as the couple’s guide, but the film also dips into his effort to help the local community from becoming overrun with crime. Additionally, Myron (Sam Dillon), a young drifter, works for the island’s crime boss, “Doughboy” (Leonard Earl Howze), whom Roy is also trying to take under his wing and lead down the righteous path.

That’s about as in-depth a summary as should be given, as many of these details are not even made clear until a hefty amount of screen time has elapsed. Instead of dumping exposition, Sandler’s film allows the audience to piece together the story. Viewers will arrive at the specifics of the plot at their own pace, an approach utilized often in novels though mainstream films are often too afraid to try.

Live Cargo deserves kudos for being bold enough to tell a story in a way that doesn’t force feed its audience. It is not going to cleanse the palettes of those looking for a traditional film. Instead, it’s better suited for viewers looking for something with more lyric and atmospheric. So, if you have enjoyed films by the likes of Malick and Korine, Logan Sandler’s low-budget film deserves a shot.

Directed by Logan Sandler
Written by Sandler and Thymaya Payne
Released by Gunpowder & Sky Distribution
USA. Bahamas. 88 min. Not rated
With Dree Hemingway, Lakeith Stanfield, Leonard Earl Howze, Sam Dillon, and Robert Wisdom