Slamdance 2019: America the Beautiful

A still from America the Beautiful.

America the Beautiful is an innovative found-footage thriller that plays right into the current American political environment in the Trump era.

Upon moving to San Bernardino, Calif., Billy and Carly Reynolds decide to remodel their new house.  This leads to Billy Reynolds’s Extreme Home Makeover being uploaded onto YouTube.  Nobody expects what happens to take place next.  It turns out that their neighbors are racist Trump voters.  This comes through by way of the dialogue.  We do get to learn who Billy and Carly are as people.  Carly is a proud Hillary Clinton supporter and her phone shows this support.  On the other hand, Billy is one of those non-voters.

In any event, Billy decides to befriend their new neighbor, Ron.  He probably had no idea what he was about to get into.  We can feel the anger coming from Ron when it comes to the current political environment.  Hell, he’s very angry when he stresses the need to “take our country back.”  This comes at the exact moment in which he reaches for the red “Make America Great Again” cap.  Even the “fake news” term gets thrown around.

One thing to know about Ron is that he runs a militia known as The Sentries.  They are members of the alt-right and exactly the type of people whose hatred is enabled by Donald Trumps’ rhetoric.  They have their own theme song in the form of Toby Keith and Willie Nelson’s “Beer for My Horses.”  Being able to sing this song is apparently a requirement for all members.

You know how they say people can change?  Well, Billy changes so much during the film.  It’s enough of a change that Carly is scared.  This is never more apparent than when Billy brings home a glock.  This comes as a result of his laptop being stolen.  Being the racist that he is, Ron believes that one of their Hispanic neighbors stole it.

All of these clips are being presented as evidence for Billy Reynold’s trial for murder.  After Carly’s car is tagged with “Fuck Trump,” Billy starts to chase who he believes did it.  An argument seemingly gets out of hand and the next thing we know–shots are fired.

It’s not so often that one sees a found-footage thriller that feels so realistic.  Yet this is exactly what America the Beautiful feels like in viewing.  Co-directors James Kaelan and Blessing Yen shoot this film entirely on an iPhone, joining the likes of Sean Baker’s Tangerine and Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane.  Where those two films were shot horizontally, these filmmakers opt for the vertical format.

With an hour-long running time, the film is short compared to most narrative features.  This being said, it really would not work with a 90-minute running time.  When the film ends, it does so abruptly while leaving you wanting to know what happens next.  Again, give credit to co-directors Kaelan and Yen for taking this film in such a direction.

America the Beautiful shows that there are some parts of America that are full of racism and not so beautiful.

DIRECTORS:  James Kaelan & Blessing Yen
CAST:  Charlie Faith, Monica Baker, Brennan Kelleher, Ty Foster, Emily Best, Ammar Ramzi, Mike Trehy, Enoc Aguado, James Kaelan

America the Beautiful will screen during the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival as a Special Screening.  The film previously screened during the Slamdance DIG (Digital, Interactive & Gaming showcase. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.