Oklahoma’s biggest film festival, deadCenter, has kicked off and the opening night offerings didn’t fail to impress. One of the most notable movies of the evening was the locally grown and made movie Hollis, written and directed by Sonny Priest. The film follows the story of a boy making life changing decisions as he prepares to decide between chasing his dreams to change the world and staying home to take care of his special needs brother, Hollis.
It’s a slice of life movie set in one of Oklahoma’s the titular town of Hollis. Daryl (Ty Fanning) has lived his life taking care of his older brother Hollis (Matt Altobelli) and fighting off the defeatist philosophies of his father Frank (Terry Masters). After being accepted to Duke on a scholarship he decides to chase dreams by accepting the seeming ticket to success. Daryl begins to make preparations until Hollis winds up running into in trouble with the law. With time running out, Daryl must make difficult decisions to determine whether he’s going to leave everything behind to chase his future or stay behind to protect his past.
This movie could have been a simple inspirational tale about a small town boy making the acceptance list for Duke, but instead Hollis spends more time exploring the weight of sacrificing the things he loves in order to pursuing his larger ambitions. Like Daryl, the audience lives in the uneasy tension of “should he stay or shouldn’t he” that give the movie and decisions made real stakes.
The movie landed a an exception duo with Tye Fanning and Matt Altobelli who quickly establish a warm and believable chemistry that grounds the heart of the movie. Daryl and Hollis are front and center, but it’s the warmth of the townsfolk of Hollis that really sell the reality of these characters. If you’ve grown up in a small community, you’ve probably experienced the same type of love all of these characters are portraying. These actors feel like people you’d run into in just about any small town and its these details that set this film as something special. The friendly folks of Hollis hit just about every note, but it’s the less kindly characters who come across as caricatured and stilted. Frank for instance never feels like a real guy. He’s an angry and bitter person, but his deep rooted hatred for his boys never really feels quite like it’s earned. The same can be said for Deputy Johnson who comes across like mustache twirling bully whose sole purpose is to make everyone miserable. By and large the cast and delivery are really exceptional even when the script comes across a bit stilted.
Like the acclaimed Winter’s Bone, this movie gives us a look at the smaller towns that most people blow right past on the highway without a thought. Unlike last year’s Rutterless which focused on Oklahoma’s city scenery, Hollis gives us another piece of the country seldom seen on the big screen. The film was shot completely on location in Oklahoma and thanks to some impressive work by cinematographer Samuel Calvin, the far corners of the beloved Sooner state have never looked better. The camera work along with several smart editing decisions set a fittingly rural atmosphere encompassing the entire uniquely rustic community.
Hollis may have moments when it stumbles, but the story being told is a uniquely Oklahoman tale aspiring to inspire the state’s most talented artists to dream a little bigger. It’s grade A filmmaking telling the story of a town and a family Hollywood would never dare explore and it’s got more heart and ambition than just about any blockbuster hitting the big screen summer. If you’re looking for something new and something fresh at deadCenter, make it Hollis.