Caution: some plot spoilers ahead. Don’t read if you plan on watching Black Sand!
Each item in Mark Wood’s ever-expanding repertoire of ASL films is better than the last. However, he continues to stick with his tried-and-true formula for making crowd-pleasing suspenseful thrillers. As in “Wrong Game” and “Legend of the Mountain Man,” Wood’s films feature a group of Deaf people vacationing in a strange house, preferably surrounded by many trees and in a remote location. Flicker some lamps and disappear some people; pretty soon everybody’s nerves are rattled and the knives are out. Soon, the truth comes out; no one is who he or she seems to be; references to a long-lost family secret or vendetta are made and the movie draws to a satisfying end.
“Black Sand” is no different, but its plot is arguably Wood’s cleverest to date. The first half of the movie is filled with much of what I’ve just explained above. Yet, nothing really makes sense and it’s filled by characters that don’t quite add up. People lash out at each other out of the blue. Troy (Christopher B. Corrigan) decks Rex (Tommy Korn) for no apparent reason. The sophomore lovebirds from Gallaudet University, Cathy (Michaela Paulone) and Tim (Paul Amman) have been together for weeks, but haven’t kissed yet. Huh? These are college students, not Benedictine monks. Likewise for Rex and his girlfriend, Joy (Evelina Gaina); their relationship lacks any romantic spark whatsoever.
Then halfway through the movie, the plot twist is untwisted. Wood devotes the entire second half of the film to filling in the gaps so by the end of the movie, you’ve got a complete story that explains all the character oddities and narrative inconsistencies see in the first half. The audience can be seen going, OH! … OH I SEE! .. OH! until both the thumb and pinky fingers fall off the Y handshape. The ending is supremely satisfying after one more last twist, but the movie does fail to explain how Tim knew to ask about Cathy while blackmailing Troy.
Unfortunately, many of Wood’s films seem to be marred by the Actor With The Frozen Facial Expression. There is that one character, usually an adult, who is constantly feeling one strong emotion. In “Forget Me Not,” the mother (Mindy Moore) was always angry, defiant, and had a predilection for inserting dramatic pauses in between every single sign. WHAT! YOU! SAY! YOU! BETTER! LEAVE! NOW!
In “Black Sand,” this problem falls on Beth (Joette Paulone, who sports a shock of white hair that looks just fantastic). She is eternally fearful and worried about everybody else’s safety. “You better go!” “Why oh why did you come?” “Please stay in the house!” “Don’t go out at night!” Many other characters suffer from this one-dimensionality too, but they get off the hook because in the movie, those characters were attempting to fake their identities anyway. Actors playing as bad actors.
The one bright spot in the cast is Michaela Paulone; her lines as Cathy come naturally and her expressions are always spot-on. With her recent leading role in “Gerald,” Paulone seems to be on a trajectory towards becoming one of the leading Deaf actresses of our time. Let’s hope she can land roles in more complex movies.
Overall, two thumbs up. Mark Wood, instead of another mystery thriller, how about a romantic comedy next time?