Review:Uncle John

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: After a possible murder occurs in a small town, one of it’s respected citizens may know more than he is letting on. 

REVIEW: UNCLE JOHN is a strange thriller. It is an effective character driven feature with the crime aspect almost being secondary to the relationships involved. Closer in tone to 2013’s BLUE RUIN as opposed to your typical crime drama, it is a compelling journey crafted by director/co-writer Steven Piet and screenwriter Erik Crary. This haunting feature gives us two very different stories that connect, but not in the way you’d expect. In fact, my expectations were completely left in the dust due to the film’s surprising take. Aside from the opening – and quite an eerie sequence it is – the heart of this film is with the character of Uncle John (John Ashton) and his nephew Ben (Alex Moffat). While the two share a very limited screen time together, it ultimately makes for a very satisfying film.

When a disappearance – possible murder – plagues a small town, suspicions leave the townspeople talking. It is the victim’s brother Danny (Ronnie Gene Blevins) that begins to talk about murder and the possible suspects. One of the names he spreads is that of the kindly John who may very well have a few secrets. Soon, John’s nephew Ben arrives with his co-worker/romantic partner Kate (Jenna Lyng) for an impromptu visit. With Ben never fully aware of the dangerous possibility of what John is involved in, he remains slightly oblivious to what the severity of what is going on in his uncle’s life. Things get even more complicated when Danny starts to harass John about whether he knows of his missing brother’s whereabouts.

One of the most intriguing aspects of UNCLE JOHN is just how little attention is paid to the crime itself. In fact, other than a few scenes, this could have simply been about an man returning to his hometown. This is an inspired choice, one that could have failed miserably. It doesn’t. Somehow this family reunion of sorts offers up elements of a small town with secrets incredibly well. You can credit much of this to the naturalistic dialogue and the close knit characters. This is more of an essay on a community that happens to be dealing with a mystery as opposed to a crime drama. If you're looking for shoot-outs and chase sequences, you may want to look elsewhere.

One of the many charms of UNCLE JOHN is the perfect casting of Ben and his co-worker Kate.  Alan Moffat and Jenna Lyng spend nearly all their screen time getting to know each other after their initial meeting early on. At times their dialogue comes across as improvised, but it is done beautifully. The two actors are marvelous together. What is really fascinating about their story is that even though they visit Uncle John, they are oblivious to the dark undercurrent. It really shouldn’t work, yet somehow there is a freshness here. Every time the two are together it was easy to invest in their blossoming relationship. Moffat is fantastic, especially considering he has so few credits on his resume. He, as well as Lyng, are a joy to watch.

John Ashton is also fantastic. Unlike his co-stars, he has an impressive resume. He gives Uncle John a very real layer, yet somewhere deep inside you question if there is something much darker he is hiding. And while I appreciated the unusual approach, it would have been nice to see Ashton and Moffat delve into their relationship a little more. Even still, the way they handle the darker material in such a quiet way somehow made it feel a little poetic. The scenes with Ashton and a distrustful – and also terrific – Ronnie Gene Blevins are perfectly haunting. What a strange beautiful movie this is.

UNCLE JOHN will not please everyone, yet many may find it to be a shockingly refreshing approach to your typical crime drama. Sure it is far more drama than crime, yet the underlying darkness is still unsettling. And what really carried through was the relationship between Ben and Kate and the discovery of two very talented actors. As quiet and personal as it may be, this is a compelling story. Steven Piet and his co-writer Crary took a risk and it works. This is a truly special film that is intent on taking the road less travelled. It is a thoughtful and engaging story that manages to create tension that hides just beneath the crevice.


Uncle John



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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.