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FIRST WINTER (director/writer: Benjamin Dickinson; cinematographer: Adam Newport-Berra; editors: Jen Lame/Andrew Alan/Benjamin Dickinson; cast: Lindsay Burdge (Marie), Paul Manza (Paul), Jennifer Kim (Jen), Samantha Jacober (Sam), Matt Chastain (Matt); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Mark De Pace/Zachary Mortensen/Lindsay Burdge/Benjamin Dickinson; Ghost Robot; 2012)
“A disturbing nightmare flick on the down side of life on a hippie commune in the sticks.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A disturbing nightmare flick on the down side of life on a hippie commune in the sticks. It’s the enticing debut film helmed by Benjamin Dickinson. He also writes it.

A group of antsy Brooklynites start a commune in a secluded farmhouse in upstate NY. The de facto leader is the Jesus lookalike Paul (Paul Manza, real-life yoga instructor), who teaches yoga. There’s a party mood, where drugs and free love are commonplace. But there’s also an unpleasantness caused by bickering among the members. When Matt (Matthew Chastain) berates Paul for screwing the best looking chicks, Paul blasts Matt for his heroin addiction.

Things get dire when supplies dwindle, the winter brings on a record cold and the transplanted Brooklynites seem lost when farming. When a blackout occurs and the commune is completely cutoff from the world, the members panic and turn on each other. Though survival becomes of vital importance, sexual conflict and snarky relationships persist. Their leader Paul is more interested in himself than the group. Paul ruffles everyone’s feathers when even though he is sexually involved with Jen (Jennifer Kim) and Sam (Samantha Jacober), he shows a sudden interest in Marie (Lindsay Burdge). When a station wagon of hippies is sent to the nearest town for help and they never return, things seem apocalyptic.

The pic tells us that for this commune, going back to live in nature eventually means facing the possibility of starvation, Old Testament judgments and facing morality issues that the hippies just never faced so openly when in the city.

Adam Newport-Berra’s hand-held cinematography tastefully captures the changes in the atmosphere. It might not be a pic to suit all tastes and the characters are not that sympathetic, but for the right viewer, willing to go with the flow, its depiction of rural commune life for unprepared city dwellers might hit most of the right chords.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”