When in the sensitive, highly appealing "Exodus Fall" three teenagers flee their abusive mother in Texas for the security of their grandmother in Oregon, they embark on a life-changing adventure through a beautiful swath of unspoiled countryside. This graceful, easy-to-take picture is a nifty example of resourceful independent filmmaking, with a perfectly blended ensemble cast in well-drawn roles.
Screenwriter Chad Waterhouse and producer Ankush Kohli, who co-directed "Exodus Fall," are skilled storytellers with a sure sense of structure, a deft way with telling detail and with capturing the exuberant sense of freedom and joy the siblings experience during their journey. The film's tone is loving and upbeat, but with enough of a dark undertow to acknowledge that the trip is not without inherent danger and potential setbacks.
Although too intense for the very young, "Exodus Fall" is a family film in the best sense.
In a very fine portrayal, Rosanna Arquette is cast as a woman who pretty clearly didn't want her three children, born in close succession, one of whom is autistic. When her baseball player husband (Christopher Atkins) is first sidelined from the majors by an accident and then felled by a fatal heart attack, Arquette's Marilyn becomes seriously unhinged. Always a resentful mother, she becomes drunk and abusive. Her children, who had the benefit of a loving, attentive father and are tightly bonded, at last realize they must flee home.
Eldest son Kenneth (Jesse James) plans a getaway in their father's station wagon with great care, though taking along autistic brother Dana (Devon Graye) entails an unexpected challenge for Kenneth and sister Charlotte (Adrien Finkel). But once the three hit the road, they are aided on their journey by a kindly hitchhiking photographer (Alexander Carroll) on his own special mission.
The filmmakers never make clear why the siblings haven't reached out to their grandmother (Dee Wallace Stone) or why they don't even let her know they are embarking on a 1,000-mile journey to reach her. Perhaps they just want to prove to themselves that they can do it on their own.
Luckily, "Exodus Fall" casts such a pleasing spell that it actually might benefit from leaving that final question unanswered.