It’s always unsettling to read articles about people with little known and poorly understood diseases who went to doctor after doctor, underwent test after test, and for years no one could diagnose their ailment. They are often told that they are suffering from some psychosomatic or other emotional problem, sometimes they are given anti-depressants which do nothing for them. Some are suspected of being malingerers or hypochondriacs.
Every time I see or read one of these stories, my mind runs wild — cataloguing all the things that plague me that might be symptoms that mean something serious — and I wonder what rare ailment do I have. I then administer the best medicine (for me) — I tell myself it’s all in my head — and go about my life knowing that I shouldn’t read articles about strange diseases. How likely is it that there’s some dread disease or syndrome marked by dry skin, cellulite, and hot flashes?
Radiant is an independent film that introduces the audience to four individuals (played by Sandra Fish, Jeremy Schwartz, Matthew Tompkins, and Laurel Whitsett) suffering from undiagnosable diseases who visit a doctor in the desert because he is working on an experimental virus. Each hopes that the doctor’s research will lead to relief from whatever it is they have. The doctor has an employee, Ed Moss (well played by James Cable), who suffers from socialization problems; Ed is in charge of the experimental animals, in this case, dogs. He lives in a small house near a brick barn at the far reaches of the property on which the research facility is located.
Dr. Blackpool (Jim Covault) does not operate a government-sanctioned laboratory; the government sends in its biohazard-suited commandos to shut the place down, and one of these gorillas shoots a metal box containing the virus on which the doctor has been working (attempting to create a super-virus that would protect the body from harmful viruses).
Viruses are fascinating, particularly the way they work in the host body. Viruses in movies are often ridiculous; beware the independent film about the outbreak of a deadly virus mutating its victims. Radiant is not one of those movies.
Although promotion of Radiant focuses on four individuals who are infected, that’s not what the movie is really about. It’s a deliberately paced musing on man’s relationship to all that affects him—time, space, oceans, the sun, animals—and it effectively draws the viewer in with its exploration of these themes. The pacing and cinematography is reminiscent of Picnic at Hanging Rock, and there is something of District 9 to it as well, although the plots of these three films have little in common.
The four infected people choose to escape to the desert where they will either die from or become better because of the virus. They are hunted by the “government,” which seeks to eliminate them. There is an allegorical element to the pursuit; the helicopters and anonymous searchers serve as stand-ins for death, and the escapees for those who wish to escape it.
Much of the spoken word in Radiant is in the form of narration, usually a dead giveaway that a movie is going to stink (often the narrator is used to fill in the holes in the plot and tie everything together). Again, this is not the case. The narration is natural; it feels like someone is actually telling us about real events. In fact, the entire cast is exceptional in the naturalistic and convincing method they attack their roles. Without the use of special effects, contrived plot devices, or phony conflict Radiant presents a simple story, well told and handsomely filmed. Writer/director Steve Mahone has given us a rewarding cinematic experience with this, his debut effort. Radiant is justly the recipient of at least eight festival awards.