An ambitious combination of suspense thriller and brooding treatise on existential themes, “The Quarry” feels like a throwback to the era of late-night cable movies, when art, ambition and genre pulp would often collide.
Directed by Scott Teems from a screenplay adapted by Teems and Andrew Brotzman from a novel by Damon Galgut, the movie opens with a traveling preacher (Bruno Bichir), on his way to a small Texas border town, picking up a man (Shea Wigham) from the side of the road. That man, a fugitive, soon kills the preacher and assumes his identity.
When a body is found in the local quarry, the fugitive’s deceptions become harder to hold together in the face of a suspicious local police chief (Michael Shannon). Catalina Sandino Moreno plays a young woman who assists at the church and is secretly having an affair with the lawman.
The story has been transposed, to strong effect, to borderland Texas from the setting of South Africa in the novel, creating an evocative world where some people are passing through and some are going nowhere.
The movie’s truest strength is simply in watching Whigham and Shannon warily face off, a low-key masterclass of on-screen masculinity and old-school charisma.
For Whigham’s fugitive posing as a preacher, what begins as just a convenient cover story takes on an unexpected life of its own, as he comes to find genuine solace and purpose in the Bible and starts to build a congregation for his sermons on forgiveness and redemption. There is something affecting about “The Quarry,” even if it doesn’t quite fully sustain its spare worldview, and despite the storytelling becoming increasingly cluttered by the end.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Available April 17 on VOD