Strong characters and well-established motivation to overcome conflict are two incredibly important parts of a story. While you can sacrifice a little of one to make room for the other, it’s impossible to engage an audience if they don’t understand the characters and their actions. This is what writer/director Alistair Banks Griffin tries to get away with in his film Two Gates of Sleep, but, as one could expect, it simply doesn’t work.

In the film, two brothers (Brady Corbet and David Call) living in the woods of Mississippi with their mother (Karen Young) who habitually wanders away from the house. Their mother then dies and, after building her a coffin, the brothers attempt to take her upriver to bury her.

First, it’s worth noting that the mother doesn’t die until approximately 45 minutes into the film, which only runs 78 minutes to begin with. The first half of the movie is spent watching the three characters sit around in silence, with the exception of a sequence in which Corbet’s character skins a deer and works at a saw mill (both also in silence). No effort is made to explain who these individuals or how they got to where they are at the start of the film. You don’t know these people are from Adam and that doesn’t change over the course of the film.

When the mother does finally die – she wanders out in the middle of the night and collapses in a puddle of mud – the characters show no emotions outside of the insistence that she not be brought to the county morgue. The trip then begins to take her body up river to her final resting spot. Why is the area significant? Has the mother previously expressed interest in buried at this spot? If the sons aren’t even willing to shed a tear over their mother’s death, why are they willing to go on such an endeavor? At no point in the story are any of these important questions answered.

While the story is lacking in almost every way imaginable, what makes the movie even remotely worthwhile is Banks Griffin’s direction. The area in which he is working is truly beautiful, full of incredible foliage and terrain, and the director does a great job of acknowledging and capturing it. I would say that it almost becomes its own character, but considering how the characters in this film are developed, I wouldn’t want to downgrade it.

Two Gates of Sleep is an empty vessel. While the scenery is undoubtedly pleasant to look at, we might as well be watching a zombie film without the human and survival elements. To be blunt, the film is boring and trudges along much like the two brothers with their heavy luggage.

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