Connect with us


Uncertain Terms | Review

Rebounds and Role-play: Silver’s Latest Returns to Uncomfortable Interactions

uncertain-terms-posterWith his fourth feature film, Uncertain Terms, indie film director Nathan Silver advances the knack he has for exploring awkward and uncomfortable human interactions within the confines of people suffering through displaced, temporary scenarios. Perhaps more thematically aligned with his 2012 film, Exit Elena, Silver’s penchant for characters seemingly hell bent on making wrong decisions, (a la his aggravating protagonist in Soft in the Head) takes center stage here. Relationships and the nascent notion of responsibility are hardly finite fixtures, something playfully, agonizingly explored.

Robbie (David Dahlbom) has left Brooklyn to works as a handyman for his Aunt Carla (Cindy Silver) in the Hudson Valley. It’s not at first clear why, but he seems to be running away from something back home and without much of a plan. Carol runs a home for pregnant teen girls in the countryside, a sanctuary with room for five young women. Her son, Lenny (Nathan Silver), a teacher, also pops up from time to time but seems disinterested in helping his mother out, which makes her appreciate Robbie’s presence. While a new spot has opened up in her home and she accepts a new young woman into the fold, the others girls seem intensely curious about the new handsome man wandering around on the grounds. In between planning how they will be raising their children, several of the young women try to assert a claim on his affections. But Robbie seems drawn to Nina (India Menuez), who is embroiled in relationship drama with her boyfriend Chase (Casey Drogin). We’re slow to discover what Robbie’s wife Mona (Caitlin Mehner) did to drive him out of their home, and the more she calls to reach out to salvage their relationship, the more Robbie seems attracted to the simplicity of Nina’s affections.

At moments, Uncertain Terms is reminiscent of those vintage exploitation women-in-prison efforts, like Caged!, or maybe even those nunsploitation Euro trash classics of yore, where groups of sedentary women are being kept for their own good, whether at their discretion or not.

When Robbie strides through their calm period of reflection, he’s an obvious object of interest, causing jealous rifts between the clan of young women, especially when he begins to gravitate toward troubled Nina. If the sexual advances of some of these women are uncomfortable, Robbie’s rebound behavior toward the much younger and very pregnant Nina is like watching a swiftly approaching train wreck. Surprisingly, Silver’s reckoning prizes subtlety, an anticlimax if you will. Compared to other recent fare concerning shelters for pregnant teens, like the showy Gimme Shelter with Vanessa Hudgens, Uncertain Terms is much more naturally, uneasily drawn out. Several notable faces round out the young women, most notably Hannah Gross from I Used to Be Darker and Gina Piersanti from It Felt Like Love.

The film belongs to the simmering dynamic of newcomer David Dahlbom and India Menuez (a supporting player from Assayas’ Something in the Air), but the fine details afforded the assembly of the supporting crew speaks to Silver’s growing reputation. Listening to their various predicaments, one is struck at how genuine and unassuming their stories seem. These are details that don’t distract or mug, as evidenced in host of other melodramatic ‘girls thrown together’ tales where the bit players struggle to stand out. As such, this is also Silver’s best looking and sounding film to date, with Cody Stokes returning as co-writer, editor, and cinematographer (and surprising tracks like Khia’s infamous cunnilingus ballad pop up unexpectedly).

More excitingly, for those familiar with Silver’s Exit Elena, his mother, Cindy Silver returns to star, this time as the kindly Carla, who’s heart is in the right place even though she’s quite out of touch with her brood of young women. She harps and nags and can’t seem to help prying into her nephew’s affairs in a performance that feels genuinely warm and real.

As evidenced in his other films, Uncertain Terms deals with people interacting as they seek support, whether out of necessity or appropriately deemed circumstance, and the sometimes alarming behaviors that crop up. Uneasy, uncomfortable, and certainly uncertain, familiar scenarios, for better or worse, never quite develop as you’d assume in Silver’s films.

Reviewed in June 14 at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival – Narrative Competition


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.


More in Reviews

To Top