Slamdance 2023: A Perfect Day for Caribou

Directed by: Jeff Rutherford
Distributed by: TBD

Written by Anna Harrison


Herman (Jeb Barrier) has decided to kill himself. “I don’t want you just to know me as the father who killed himself,” he says into his tape recorder, trying to memorialize his unremarkable life and pass his knowledge—and the mistakes that taught him—onto his estranged son, Nate (Charlie Plummer). Before he can use the gun on his passenger seat, though, Nate gives him a call out of nowhere, and a reunion at a thematically apt graveyard soon ensues, along with an introduction to Ralph (Oellis Levin), Nate’s kid.

The reunion is halting and uncomfortable: Herman walked out on Nate and his mom as a kid, and in brief, meticulously composed flashbacks, we see glimpses of its effect on Nate, and how Herman’s own father affected him. Nate, though he claims to be different from Herman, seems to have inherited the same style of disaffected parenting, letting Ralph run off by himself. He’s wholly unprepared to deal with a child, especially one like Ralph, who doesn’t speak and will only eat food off the right side of his plate; Herman, taking what Nate says too literally, keeps asking if Ralph has a hole in his head and offering advice on how to fix it, trying to help as best he can. It takes a long time for the two of them to notice that Ralph has run off into the Oregon wilderness.

Nate and Herman’s two-person search party doesn’t move with a sense of urgency, but then again, neither does the film. Director Jeff Rutherford keeps “A Perfect Day for Caribou” restrained, skirting close to the line of boredom and occasionally crossing into it, but there is something to be said for how he exerts such careful control over the tone and pace of the movie, especially for a first-time feature director. Some viewers might even eat up this languid pace. It certainly gives us time to get to know Herman and Nate, who, despite having rarely talked for over ten years, see a mirror every time they look at each other, though Nate doesn’t want to admit that just yet. 

With these two men, Rutherford paints a provocative picture of working class Americana, questioning the masculinity that has driven Herman and Nate to their current situations; both Barrier and Plummer (who should have broken out in a bigger way after “Lean on Pete”) make Nate and Herman become interesting enough to mostly carry a film with a very loose narrative, but only mostly. “A Perfect Day for Caribou” has the propensity to wander, sometimes in circles, and when this happens, its lack of momentum becomes more apparent.

The real star of the show, however, is director of photography Alfonso Herrera Salcedo, whose black-and-white work creates real beauty out of restraint. Without his help, “A Perfect Day for Caribou” would be largely unremarkable except for a couple of good performances. It’s thanks to Salcedo that even when the script becomes too philosophical (though never preachy) or takes detours that don’t pay off, the film keeps your eyes affixed to the screen, even if your mind begins to drift. 

“A Perfect Day for Caribou” Trailer

“A Perfect Day for Caribou” is currently playing at the Slamdance Film Festival.

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