Patrick Lumford (White) secretly dates Valerie Gray (African American). He keeps the romance a secret because of the ultra-conservative views of his father. One fateful afternoon, Patrick's sister, Courtney, walks home and is accosted in the woods. Courtney then goes missing. Valerie's brother, Eldridge, is then accused of the crime. The respective families' challenging beliefs then come to the fore as both fathers' views on race may prove not to be so different after all. Written by
Effective modern allegory going "Into the Woods". . .
"Evil is the nature of mankind." Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"
A minimalist thriller in one respect, then classy allegory in another, The Endangered spreads the guilt for racism generously between whites and blacks while spending its brief time on the bare bones of a problematic murder set in a faux New England village (Granville, Ohio), fitting to a Hawthorne world of sin and retribution.
White Courtney Lumford (Lindsey N. Miller) foolishly walks home through a Young-Goodman-Brown-like forest where dwell sinning players from her life and an old codger,soothsayer (Jim Azelvandre), any one of whom could have murdered her. The leading suspect, black Eldrige Gray (Danny Reese II), carries a medicine stick given him by that off-center old codger to heighten writer-director Richard A. Nelson's hint of mankind's complicity in original sin, back so far as when man was buffalo, according to the codger's version of an Indian legend. Endangered species: Darwin would understand.
True to the ambiguity of sin, Nelson gives few clues to the real murderer while the story becomes heavy with the racist commentary of fathers Malcolm Gray (Richard Mason) and Connor Lumford (John S. Kuhn). While black father Malcolm has some harsh lessons to teach family about the history of prejudice and the need to be steadfast, it's the intolerant white Connor who most fosters ancient prejudices.
The artful production, with its spare production design and high angle perspectives inside and claustrophobic leafiness outside, is a fine piece to enjoy for its Twilight Zone sophistication. Nelson's referencing old chestnut To Kill a Mockingbird offers an effective alternative for those studying the shame of injustice, the horror of bigotry, and the sinful nature of all mankind.
There are no winners in this smart tale but much to learn about the nature of mankind. The ending may be predictable, and the right characters get their comeuppances, but the audience is called on to search their souls for their own prejudices both about race and the guilt of their fellow humans, be it in murder or hatred:
"The road grew wilder and drearier and more faintly traced, and vanished at length, leaving him (Goodman Brown) in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward, with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil." Hawthorne
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