Review: Runoff

Joanne Kelly in Runoff

Runoff terrified me. It was so real, so close to the bone. This was not some glorified superhero tale, this was a real family with real problems and real choices to make. Mild spoilers ahead.

Here’s the basic story. Frank (Neal Huff) and Betty (Joanne Kelly) are going under. His business of selling feed, antibiotics, hormones and such to farmers is being stolen away by big agro. The family is in danger of losing their home and farm. They have two kids: Fin (Alex Shaffer) and Sam (Kivlighan de Montebello).

The story unfolds slowly and quietly. It’s people living normal lives on an idyllic farm. Young Sam is concerned about his Halloween costume. High school senior Fin wants to go to art school, but his dad wants him to get a degree in ag science. Betty’s bees aren’t making as much honey as they should.

Joanne Kelly and Neal Huff in "Runoff"
Joanne Kelly and Neal Huff in “Runoff”

It takes a while to see what the problems are. Frank has health problems that he’s lying to Betty about. He’s also lying to her about how bad business is.

A former customer of Frank’s, Scratch (Tom Bower), who’s deserted him for big agro bucks, offers him money to illegally dispose of some chemicals. Frank won’t do it.

Later, Betty goes to see Scratch to try to regain his business. She realizes his cows are sick and he’s selling the contaminated milk anyway. Then Scratch offers Betty money to dump the chemicals.

After the slow bucolic start, tension mounts as the film progresses. It reaches a horrifying climax on Halloween night. The way the climactic moments were stitched together truly made me tremble with fear.

I confess I was initially interested in this film because it stars Joanne Kelly. (Big Warehouse 13 fan here.) Her performance as Betty is outstanding; my interest in her was justified. In many ways, Joanne Kelly carries the film. Ultimately, Runoff comes down to what Betty will do.

The film was written and directed by Kimberly Levin. Having a woman writer and director does not ensure a heroic female protagonist. Betty is no Erin Brockovich. At the end, the viewer isn’t 100% sure if Betty has decided the potential damage of working with Scratch is worth it, or if it’s a big mistake.

The Runoff Trailer

You can watch the trailer here, as well as an interview with writer/director Kimberly Levin. I saw the 2014 Runoff on Netflix. It’s also available on Amazon Video, and I assume other streaming services have it as well.

If you’ve seen Runoff, I’d love to hear your reactions to it, especially what you thought Betty’s mental state was at the end of the film.

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