Hot Docs 2014 Review: Love And Terror On The Howling Plains Of Nowhere
With so much potential and a rollicking beginning, it is somewhat surprising that Love and Terror in the Howling Plains of Nowhere’s title is the most memorable aspect of this documentary. Okay, there are some pretty rad inter-title sequences and graphics, but those can only take a movie so far).
One of this film’s major issues is the complete lack of a surprise, or twisted development. A basic plot summary reveals what LaTonHPoN has to offer. The community of Chadron really is Twin Peaks-eqsue, (one woman bore more than a passing resemblance to the Log Lady, sans the log). There is hope that though it is set in Nebraska, the mystery will come to resemble the Southern Gothic of True Detective, only, y’know, true. This hope is quickly vanquished, though, as the unsolved mystery of why Math professor Steven Haataja disappeared and was found dead and tied to a tree remains unsolved. Marty and Rust are not on the case, and sadly, there is no Yellow King Sarcosa. There is, however, a section about how difficult it is to pin down the fragile nature of truth, though no grand unifying theory is offered. Writer / editor Dave Jannetta does not provide a sense of closure, which may be sort of the point.
A single scene does provide footage of the howling plains, but there are a few too many lingering looks at the book on which it is based. Perhaps this story works better in the form of a memoir / true crime story, by producer Poe Ballantine, (a pseudonym). There is an absence of genuine suspense, (and of love and terror), leaving the viewer howling at a somewhat plain movie that seems to go nowhere.