When President Franklin Roosevelt promised rural electrification, his pledge was fulfilled, albeit slowly. But what of those displaced to make way for hydropower projects (and recreation lakes) to bring electricity to every part of America? Northfork attempts to tell one such story about Northfork, a mythical small town in Montana that was inundated in 1955. The film begins with a casket suddenly emerging from the waters, piquing the attention of filmviewers to learn the story behind the coffin that came out of the blue. Next, the future dam is dedicated in a ceremony during 1953. But the project must first evict residents in 65 homes who came from Europe with valuable household possessions, promising them 1.25 acres of lakeside property when the dam is completed. Six men are assigned the task of facilitating the evictions, and of course some residents obstinately refuse to move. The plot, in short, is rather simple, one that ordinarily would provide a compassionate story. Instead, director Michael Polish embarks on surrealism. Men in black suits and hats, obviously dressed as undertakers, comb the town in black cars to “help” residents move out; if they can fulfill their quota, they will receive an extra quarter-acre of lakefront property. Some residents will not move until they receive a “sign from heaven” to do so, though they do not cite a “sign from heaven” that prompted them to move to Northfork in the first place. But the most surreal aspect of the plot centers on Irwin (played by Duel Farnes), a four-year-old boy, whom the local pastor, Father Harlan (played by Nick Nolte), recently allowed a family to adopt. The parents return the boy, who claims to be an angel, saying that he was sick when they got him and that now he is too sick to leave Northfork. Another prospective couple later arrives with an interest in adopting the boy, but they demur when Harlan, who knows that the boy is dying, tells them they have to agree to adopt the boy before they meet him. Presumably, filmviewers are supposed to see in both stories an American Gothic paradigm, but they are unlikely to make that connection, since style unfortunately eclipses substance and any moral about the price of progress is lost in a reverie that almost pretends to be theological. MH

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