Maybe it is because I live in the Midwest and have all of my life. Or perhaps it is my on going frustration with how Midwesterners are traditionally portrayed on screen. Maybe even its my own exhaustion from defending my region despite understanding that the politics of the area tend to earn its reputation. These reasons mean I don’t love movies set in the Midwest. I don’t. I said it. Movies that take place in urban centers in the heartland don’t often represent the complexities of city life and the portrayals of rural life are even worse. Writer/Director Clayton Scott has made me a believer. His debut movie Below the Fold manages to capture how complex simple small town life can be (I know it looks like a oxymoron. It kind of is). The film gives us something we don’t often see. It is a gentle examination of just how messed up things can get in small communities. Below the Fold is not interested in making fun of the people who live in small towns in Missouri, but rather seeks to tell their stories in a true and honest way even if those stories don’t reflect positively on those involved or the towns in which they live. It is exceedingly fair, and in that fashion Below the Fold is both important and unique.
The movie’s main character is Skidmore, Missouri, a town known best for an incident where the town bully was gunned down in broad daylight in front of multiple witnesses and folks didn’t say a word to investigators. It’s a character in that Scott makes sure to capture that the town is old, and small. Its residents mostly reflect the town. However like a few places I know well Skidmore is a proud and quiet town who is weary of outsiders and defensive of those that remain. It could be Greentop, or Jamesport or Gallatin. Having lived in and driven through these towns all of my life Scott perfectly captures the dynamics and politics of living in these areas, while not giving them free passes. There is an affection here, even if the subject matter seeks to explore the underbellies of these towns. Some movies tend to look down on the small towns they are critiquing. The biggest accomplishment of Below the Fold comes from its ability to ignore the impulses to discuss Skidmore and its residents as caricatures. The story and its setting feel real, even if the story is more of an amalgamation of different incidents.
When David Fremont (Davis DeRock) a reporter for the Maryville daily rag (Maryville itself a small town fraught with controversy and a shady history) is tasked with investigating a decade old kidnapping of a young girl from Skidmore the small town once again is forced to reckon with its history. DeRock manages to imbue Fremont with the general disdain/love for the small towns he covers in his beat with the paper. When Lisa Johnson (Sarah Maguire) starts working at the paper Fremont’s normal apathetic view of the job gets a jolt of energy as the two focus almost exclusively on following the new leads that their investigation provides. Maguire’s performance is the heart of the movie. She comes across as a strong female reporter who feels FROM the area but not limited by the same rules and standards. She got out, and returns and while we don’t get all of the details of her journey we know that they made her a stronger person. Maguire performance is absolutely fierce and a joy to watch.
The two actors have excellent buddy cop energy and this helps the movie move quickly. If anything the drama that seems to pervade the two’s history often felt unnecessary and I found myself wanting to get back to investigation. it often slows the movie down a bit and as a result doesn’t help me care about either of them. I cared already I didn’t necessarily needed all of that backstory to create buy in. It is a rare and small misstep in a movie that gets almost everything else right.
The ending of Below the Fold won’t surprise anyone. The villains are easy to spot, and the crime and it’s perpetrators heinous enough that it ticks most of the boxes of a good crime thriller. David Fincher’s influence is all over this movie from the color palette which makes even the brightest sunny day seem pretty darn bleak, to the reporters who have just enough information to prod them along but never enough to solve the case. This lack of information, coupled with the fact that everyone seems to hate journalists makes both Fremont and Johnson’s task almost Sisyphean. Again Scott manages to get the tone perfect. With the well documented decline in local papers smaller communities seem to be leaning into the “fake news” label some politicians use carelessly. The end result is that the death of small town periodicals seems to be an ominous harbinger for the towns themselves. Below the Fold’s ultimate message is that our local papers are an integral part of small town life. If we lose them, who else will tell those peoples’ stories. The stories that are below the fold deserve to be told and Scott is just the one to tell them.
Below the Fold is out on most major streaming platforms.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.