Monday Morning Movie Review: Still (2018)

Here it is—the long-awaited first day of Spring Break!  I’ll be reviewing some short stories throughout this week, continuing the tradition I began last year, but I’m kicking off the week with another Monday Morning Movie Review.

I’ve been watching a lot of flicks lately, and there was one excellent movie I wanted to review—but I’ve forgotten what it was called!  I suppose it wasn’t that memorable after all.

Instead, this post will review 2018’s Still, a movie that is difficult to review without giving away the “twist” ending.  That might explain why there aren’t many reviews of it online.  Like many obscure films with limited audiences, Still is on Hulu, which is proving itself a depository of hidden gems.

The film involves a couple, Adam and Lily, living in a remote part of the Appalachian Mountains, somewhere near the Appalachian Trail.  Hikers that venture up into their neck of the woods tend to disappear, as Adam aggressively threatens any unfortunate lost wanderers with an ancient rifle.  The title suggests that they’re defending a still from snooping revenuers, but the truth is deeper.

Into this cloistered world stumbles Ella, a lost hiker suffering from a rare form of cancer (per a newspaper clipping shown briefly during the opening credits).  Ella has open sores on her hands and is coughing up blood, and the hike seems to be one last hurrah before she succumbs to her unfortunate illness.

Lily welcomes Ella with open arms, while Adam remains suspicious.  However, the couple take to the young hiker, who stays with the couple longer than intended.  Indeed, the couple are quite welcoming, with first Lily and then Adam making romantic and sexual advances with Ella, culminating in a menage a trois.

That earthy entanglement convinces Lily that Ella has arrived as a sign—she is to replace Lily as Adam’s wife, allowing Lily her freedom.  Lily attempts to reveal the mountains secret to Ella, but an angry Adam intervenes, shooting Ella in the process.

That triggers a long flashback sequence, in which Adam and Lily’s past as two runaways living on the lam is recounted in full.  The audience witnesses the unlikely couple fall in love, establishing that the characters were young in the 1920s or 1930s, meaning that the two are quite elderly, despite their unnaturally young appearance.

Back in the present, Adam begrudgingly agrees to let Lily use the mountain’s secret to revive Lily:  it’s incredible regenerative waters.  Lily miraculously recovers from a short-range shotgun blast after imbibing the water, and realizes that Adam and Lily are far older than they appear.

As for Lily’s scheme to make Ella Adam’s new wife, Adam rejects the idea.  He loves his wife, saying that love is forever.  Lily says, “Ain’t nothin’ lasts forever, Adam” (or something along those lines), and Lily and Ella both leave the mountain cabin for the bright lights of the modern world.  In a sleazy dive bar in a nearby town, the girls are picked up by a couple of bros, but the next day Lily undergoes a medical emergency.

At the hospital, she ages rapidly, shocking the doctor.  Adam arrives in the nick of time with a jar of the mountain’s healing waters, giving Lily a drink.  She returns to her youthful self.  The two frat boys realize the potential of the water, and spend an evening on the mountain punching each other, then drinking the water to heal their bruises and cuts, with Ella joining in on the fun.

The next day, the two men fight and bicker with one another as they try to move a gigantic barrel of the water off the mountain, presumably to sell it.  Ella leaves them to find Adam and Lily sorrowful that the secret of the mountain will be revealed, ruining their isolated solitude (and likely ruining the mountain’s healing springs in the process).  Ella grabs the rifle and (off-camera) murders the two men to keep the mountain’s secret safe.

After that, Ella’s fate is unclear, but Adam and Lily sit staring out over the Appalachian Mountains, wearing their simple wedding bands, implying that they have opted to grow old together, leaving the mountain and its healing waters a secret forever.

At least, that’s my reading of it.  They could have just been enjoying the sunset after their encounter with the outside world, but there seemed to be the slightest suggestion of age spots and wrinkles appearing on their intertwined hands at the end of the film.

This flick is a slow burn, but the themes it explores—aging, commitment, tradition versus modernity, etc.—are timeless and intriguing.  Although Ella is set up as the protagonist, the film is really the story of Adam and Lily’s unnaturally prolonged marriage.  Both characters should be dead (or, possibly, around 110-years old) in the time of the film.  Even if they were both alive, the nature of their relationship as physically 110-year-olds would be quite different than beings in twenty-somethings bodies.  The film in some ways is a commentary on the challenges and triumphs of marriage, and what happens when commitment waivers.

There’s also the theme of social isolation and its effects.  The “young” Adam of the flashbacks is outgoing and sweet—tender compared to the rough and tumble Lily.  As time goes on, Adam becomes the aloof, dangerous, aggressive defender of the mountain, whereas Lily has become docile and welcoming to strangers.  Both have been warped by their isolation, with Lily desperate for human connection outside of her increasingly deranged husband.

Both characters grow and mature over the course of the story’s events, though, as does Ella, who realizes that the mountain’s secret is worth preserving against the encroachments of the modern world.  Ella herself has the opportunity to keep her cancer at bay by continually imbibing the mountain’s waters, but decides against locking herself into the fate of an eternal earthly existence, having seen the toll it has taken on Adam and Lily.

There are real layers to this film, and it’s a shame it’s not reviewed more widely.  If you’re interested in a thoughtful slow burn that takes place in the beauty and quiet of the Appalachian Mountains—still so full of mystery—check out Still.

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