A brave experiment in stripped-down, visceral filmmaking, writer-director Aaron Wilson’s World War II drama “Canopy” is ultimately upended by its minimalist conceit.
Set in the jungles of Singapore in 1942, this deftly shot film is mostly free of dialogue, requiring audiences to fill in a breadth of story and character detail. As a result, viewers may find themselves more focused on what they don’t see, hear or learn than by what they do. (Light and sound effects vividly evoke off-screen enemy combat and other hazards, but the tactic seems a budgetary choice rather than a creative one.)
Wilson brings together two very different soldiers, both allied against the Japanese, under the movie’s titular canopy of dense forest and foliage. First, there’s Jim (Khan Chittenden), an Australian fighter pilot, who must navigate the tricky topography by foot while hostile forces lurk around him. He eventually stumbles upon Seng (Mo Tzu-yi), a Singapore-Chinese resistance fighter, who’s injured and scared.
With nary a word exchanged (language barrier, you know), Jim tends to Seng’s bloody wounds, then, together, they try to stay alive against the odds. It’s a highly internalized journey, one of quiet tension and spare choices.
Unlike last year’s mostly dialogue-free “All Is Lost,” which was propelled by gripping set pieces, mounting complications, a vast setting and Robert Redford, “Canopy” never becomes urgent or involving enough, even when tragedy looms. Chittenden and Tzu-yi are expressive actors, but, like the film itself, are hamstrung by the project’s self-imposed confines.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense war scenes, bloody images.
Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.