A nearly three-hour “existential epic” indie may not seem like an appealing “stream and chill” experience, but Daniel Kremer’s Overwhelm the Sky lives up to the hype. Shot in black and white, the neo-noir has received numerous roadshow-style screenings in 2019, and fully earns its lengthy run-time, much like Ari Aster’s 2019 film Midsommar. Featuring impeccable production design and direction, Overwhelm the Sky shows a filmmaker in harmony with his craft (and crew).
Loosely based on Charles Brockden Brown’s 1799 gothic novel Edgar Huntly, or Memoirs of a Sleepwalker, Kremer’s Overwhelm the Sky follows radio host Eddie Huntly (Alexander Hero), who moves from Philadelphia to San Francisco to begin a new gig, shortly after the tragic death of his would-be brother-in-law, Neil (Deniz Demirer). Hoping to find peace of mind, Eddie visits Neil’s death location in Golden Gate Park, which leads him to an enigmatic figure named Carmine Clithero (Raul Delarosa). Meanwhile, Eddie’s love interest, Thea (Nima Slone), must process the past and present as the concept of sleepwalking overwhelms daily activities, resulting in a spiritual and mind-bending climax.
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In Overwhelm the Sky, Kremer begins strong with a wide landscape shot, complemented by a Psycho-like score via Costas Dafnis. Just like that, the director establishes a specific mood for his seventh feature, along with a sense of visual artistry. It’s a fantastic tone-setter; cinephiles may be reminded of Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni — at least in terms of atmosphere — but Kremer’s aesthetic is less cold and more hypnotic. As Eddie navigates the city and converses with various locals, smooth dissolves establish a rhythmic flow, courtesy of editor Charles Thackeray, and strong supporting acting keeps the film above water. For example, there’s an early park scene featuring an impressive give-and-take from Hero and Catherine Lerza as Maggie, a jogger and psychotherapist. Overwhelm the Sky doesn’t have any bad acting moments that set the film back. For the most part, Hero carries the narrative load well — not a small accomplishment over the course of 170 minutes.
As Carmine Clithero, Delarosa exudes immense charisma throughout, certainly during a first half card game sequence when his character is essentially mocked by Eddie. It’s a crucial scene for personality context, and sets up a powerful final act sequence. Overwhelm the Sky is full of memorable character moments, whether it’s Eddie’s on-air meltdown or a dance sequence featuring Tiziana Perinotti’s Daria. Cinematographer Aaron Hollander composes striking images and the performers bring them to life, as opposed to merely existing within the frame and not knowing how to complement the mise-en-scène. Kremer directs the fantastical show with Federico Fellini-like polish.
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Overwhelm the Sky never feels messy, as Kremer organically brings everything together without being didactic or explanatory. Just after the one-hour mark, the director’s mastery of tension-building becomes fully apparent; it’s like the construction of a massive jenga tower. Everything could fall down, but not if one understands the craft and knows how to execute each small move. Kremer delivers an effective set-up in Overwhelm the Sky’s first hour, and raises the stakes in the second hour with fragments of heightened suspense. By the final hour, Dostoevskian-like psychology takes over and makes the entire experience worthwhile.
Mesmerizing and immaculately-structured, Overwhelm the Sky is an ambitious indie epic that doesn’t waste a single minute. Kremer seems fully in control from scene to scene, along with his skilled cast and crew.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor. He’s written for RogerEbert.com, Fandor and Screen Rant, among other outlets.