‘To Hell and Gone’: A modern Spaghetti Western that’s a pleasure to devour

Jon Johnson File Photo: ‘To Hell and Gone’ star Carr Cavender flips over an SUV while filming a stunt for the movie in Downtown Safford.

Review By Jon Johnson

jonjohnsonnews@gmail.com

“To Hell and Gone” takes the trope of a modern Spaghetti Western and spins it its side with the main protagonist essentially being a witness to the action and plot drivers instead of causing or being involved in them. 

While “The Stranger” – portrayed by star and producer Carr Cavender – is essential to the movie and provides interesting POV camera angles, for most of the film he observes the craziness around him until the action is thrust toward him and he decides to make a choice on what to do about it.

Contributed Photo: ‘To Hell and Gone’, star Carr Cavender has several choices to make as ‘The Stranger.’

Until that pivotal moment, the audience isn’t so sure whether “The Stranger” is such a good guy anyway. He is a self-proclaimed wanderer, who opens his part in the film apparently flopping at a stranger’s property. 

Next, we see him in a diner, where he strategically places a saved fly he carries in his food to skate on the check. At the same time, however, he intercedes on a woman’s behalf as her companion, named as “Inarticulate Man” in the credits and played by Jason Coviello, rails at her with colorful language.

After the incident, the “Inarticulate Man” confronts “The Stranger” outside the restaurant (filmed at El Coronado in Downtown Safford) and a scuffle ensues. After besting the crude dude, the man’s female acquaintance calls for the nearby police, who then give chase.

The scene drives the protagonist to hide in the bed of a rancher’s truck and, inevitably, finds himself in the wilderness of Klondyke, which is meant to represent the desert near the border with Mexico. 

As the rancher discovers her not-so-reliable truck acting up, she heads out to mend some fence the old-fashioned way on horseback – leaving “The Stranger” to roam through her house and make himself at home.

Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald

“The Stranger” then attempts to steal the truck but it still won’t start. While attempting to fix it, the rancher – aptly named Eden Magness and played magnificently by Susan Gayle Watts – comes riding back and with a revolver trained at “The Stranger” advises, “I don’t know whether I should shoot you or thank you.” And at that point, the audience isn’t so sure either. 

However, their quick engagement is over due to the arrival of a gang of interlopers who killed Tucson cops and hijacked a plane and pilot after stealing a treasure trove of literary works. The plane didn’t have enough gas to make it to Mexico, so the group perform an emergency landing in the wilderness and soon make their way to Eden’s neck of the desert. (Click here to watch the movie’s trailer.)

The scenery of Klondyke is as much a character as any other, and the cinematography is really quite excellent and is reminiscent of how John Ford showcased his brilliant landscapes. If not for Watts stealing the show in her portrayal as the hardened rancher Eden, the scenery would be the top standout of the movie. 

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Director Kyle Moore, left, checks the framing of a scene with the director of photography Peter Mickelsen while filming in Safford last year.

That’s not to say the other characters weren’t good – because they were. In actuality, for a first-time feature film for director and writer Kyle Moore, he really hit it out of the park and seemed to get the most out of his actors as well as the scenery. The gang of thieves have their own interesting backstory and have a banter akin to that found in “Reservoir Dogs.” There’s also an interesting twist in the dynamic of the group of thieves at the end which I am happy to say I did not see coming.

The story is woven together artfully and moves at a good pace. And while an inevitable shootout near the end is worthy of a shoutout by Quentin Tarantino himself it still seems original.

If you are lucky enough to come across this indie darling in your neck of the desert, be sure to grab your libation of choice, a box of popcorn and sit down for a great, fun flick and see just who “The Stranger” decides on being.

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