They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the best form of filmmaking. For the entire history of cinema, directors and screenwriters have been ripping each other off: sometimes with excellent results, but more often with a strong flavor of disappointment.

One of the worst offenders I’ve encountered in recent memory is The Quarry. Directed by Scott Teems, the film is based on South African novelist Damon Galgut‘s book of the same name — which, it should be noted, was already made into a received Belgian film in 1998. Teems has effectively washed the story clean of its themes of gay panic and the stresses of apartheid.

Instead, Teems has transplanted the story to town on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico border and adopted many of the clichés that come along with. At various moments, I felt like I was watching Paris, TexasNo Country For Old Men, or Hell or High Water. Or, at least, I wished I was watching those movies; they’re all much better than The Quarry.

The film follows The Man (Shea Whigham), a mysterious figure who murders a pastor and steals his identity as the film begins. The Man then integrates himself into his new role in a new town, attracting the attention of the police chief Moore (Michael Shannon). Whigham adds little to his massively underwritten role, and even the consistently-excellent Shannon can’t seem to make sense of the somewhat directionless script.

The film makes some ham-fisted attempts at racial commentary: The anglophone Man leads a church of Spanish speaking immigrants who, surprise surprise, come to admire his capacity for honesty and forgiveness. The Man’s appeal as a religious figure is genuinely puzzling, and the film’s overly-quick pace makes it seem like his congregation warms to him just a bit too quickly. He and chief Moore also have an ill-defined relationship with Celia (Catalina Sandino Moreno), an equally ill-defined and seemingly meaningless character.

It will surprise no one to learn that The Man’s crime eventually starts to send waves throughout the community, but the results of this are so uninspired that it really generates no interest at all. The film beats its audience over the head with themes of forgiveness from the first scene on, so to learn later on that the film is indeed about forgiveness just elicits more yawns than anything else.

Production is, on the whole, a mixed bag. The film looks quite good in some moments, but has some off-kilter visual choices in others. The biggest offender is the score, which is so self-same throughout that I sometimes wondered if it was just one never-ending song that faded in and out.

The film deserves some credit for attempting to offer a terse meditation on its religious themes, but the depth it’s clearly trying to achieve simply isn’t reached. A more original style certainly would’ve differentiated it — as it is, it feels far too patchwork to have any real impact on the viewer.

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