Movie review by Greg Carlson
Writer-director David Oas is the unlikeliest of first time moviemakers. At 67, the retired college teacher has channeled his background in clinical psychology into the shot-on-video feature “Raspberry Heaven,” which opens at the Fargo Theatre on Friday, September 10. Born in Northwood, North Dakota, Oas is a Moorhead High School and Concordia College alumnus who ended up in Ashland, Oregon following his graduate studies. In addition to his tenure at Southern Oregon University, Oas has maintained a small, private psychology practice for many years. “Raspberry Heaven” represents the fulfillment of a long-held dream for Oas, and the movie certainly rewards fans of independently produced, low budget, do-it-yourself storytelling.
Troubled Angie Callaway (Alicia Lagano) uses cocaine to escape the painful memories of her childhood, despite the care and protection of her brother Kurt (Morgan Spector). Following a strange and violent sexual encounter between Angie and a one-night stand who attempts to file assault charges, police detective Alex Purdue (Michael Elich) discovers a backpack stuffed with cash in Angie’s closet and begins an investigation of the unusual siblings. Meanwhile, psychologist Nathan Andrews (Doug Rowe) meets with Angie and the two form a bond as they try to unravel her grim, sketchy memories. The relationships between the characters are complicated by Purdue’s own recent past: his daughter was a patient in the care of Andrews when she committed suicide.
Certainly, “Raspberry Heaven” displays a tremendous sense of ambition in both storyline and technical execution. Oas manages to keep the action bouncing along, and the overall pacing and plot organization stand out as the movie’s strengths. Point of view, however, never settles on a single character, and the division of screen and story time between Angie and Purdue mitigates the effectiveness that would be provided by a single, strong, central protagonist. When various pieces of the puzzle of Angie’s past come to light, Oas shifts focus to Purdue’s internal demons, and the audience loses Angie’s thread.
“Raspberry Heaven” benefits dearly from the presence of professional actors and members of the Screen Actors Guild. As Angie, Alicia Lagano provides the movie’s finest performance. She negotiates a complex role that requires a wide range of emotional expression, and never fails to convince viewers that she is legitimately experiencing the anxieties and stresses that accompany her character’s fragile temperament. The part could easily have caused less capable performers to veer off into unwieldy melodrama, but Lagano brings a perfect balance of energy and edge to the part. By the time the end credits roll, there is no question that much more of the movie should have focused on her character.
In addition to using his performers to good advantage, Oas can also be proud of his technical crew. Mike Spodnik’s videography is uniformly excellent, the sound mix is clear, the original score by composer Eric Allaman is solid, and the various locations are consistently well-chosen. The movie’s final act reaches needlessly for an action movie vibe that doesn’t entirely fit with the mood and tone of the rest of the movie, but the total journey is satisfying. “Raspberry Heaven” promises more good work to come from David Oas; it’s a noteworthy debut.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 9/6/04.