Writer and director Tim Skousen has garnered a lot of buzz around festivals as of late. Most notably for his work on the documentary Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, which has also been garnering buzz at DIFF. Well, seems Tim Skousen has more than one trick up his sleeve because he has also finished a full length feature narrative film, and boy is it impressive. This week, Skousen came and presented his latest effort titled Thunder Broke the Heavens, along with his fellow cast. The experience was one of the highlights in this week’s festivities.
The film centers on Samantha and William Paul, who are two troubled siblings trying to find a sense of peace after their family is murdered. After the tragic events, they get forced into foster care where they eventually get adopted by a family. At first things appear positive, but the resulting new kinship is anything but stable for the two children. In hopes to escape from their wicked new life, Samantha and William Paul flee the clutches of the unstable parents to survive in peace on their own.
Thunder Broke the Heavens doesn’t make light of its fairy-tale subtext. In fact, the narrative beautifully embraces it and plays with it in the tone. This is very much a fairy tale, only a deluded down country-esque version of stories like Cinderella or Hansel & Gretel. This brings them down to reality, but still attaches supernatural undertones such as guardian angels and miracles. The way Skousen weaved these elements subtley into the story is one of many traits I found impressive about this movie, and made it feel fresh.
As dark as this story is at times, Skousen painted a very spiritual canvas in the background of this story, utilizing music and cinematography in solid ways. He really has an eye for shooting nature, and some of the shots with the central characters next to music is quite moving at times. This is all compounded by incredible performances from its two main stars– Alexandria Peters and Gavin Howe. It’s quite noteworthy for a director to pull such exceptional performances from kids and is typically a struggle for most filmmakers. Matter of fact, some of the most established working directors today still have issue drawing believable performances from child actors. For Tim Skousen to pull this off is remarkable for an indie filmmaker.
Thunder Broke the Heavens is not without its flaws. One nitpick I had is some of the ADR stood out in one or two scenes, kinda pulling me out of the film briefly. It definitely wasn’t enough to make the entire Thunder Broke the Heavens experience lose its momentum but it did bother me for a second. The other nitpick I have (and it is just a nitpick), is that of Samantha’s character. She’s an amazingly relatable character and well developed, however, she made a few decisions towards the finale that struck me as choices made for the plot rather than for the character herself. As I said, these are very much just nitpicks and didn’t weigh down all the magic of the film as a whole.
Overall, Thunder Broke the Heavens is an emotionally gripping tale of tragedy within childhood. Tim Skousen crafted a remarkable country style fairy-tale and made it work incredible on film. They say that the best films pull you away from reality and transport you to a different time and place. Well, for 90-plus minutes I was completely invested in the journey of Samantha and William Paul, and for that reason, Tim Skousen has my attention. I can’t wait to see what he does next.