Equally interesting is that there is meta-awareness for the viewer; these kinds of austere films are thought to be somehow “honest”. With no recognizable illusions it is easier to assume what you are seeing is all there is. The lack of obvious special effects indicates that what we see is what we get. So it is with many of the visuals; functional but not breathtaking compositions, natural, but not expressive lighting, and an utilitarian editing style which moves the narrative, confuses the reality, but takes no poetic or formal risks: “Nothing to see here, don’t pay attention”. Film style as camouflage, perhaps.
The soundtrack has few adornments or flourishes. As if the visuals do not wish to be seen, the aural space is not meant to be heard. No driving soundtrack of any sort, sound effects kept to a minimum and naturalistic when used, foley used sparingly. When there is dialogue, there is often broad silence between statements. As it happens, there is a good amount of silence in the film in general. For example, the camera watches from a distance as a single engine airplane plummets toward a lake. There’s no shrieking descent, just the wind in the trees, some road ambience, and then a subdued splash when the plane hits water. If we didn’t see the plane, we might not have noticed anything had happened at all.
In audio production, there is technical matter called “presence” the sound of silence, the audio of a space where nothing is happening. This tone creates a sense of what the location is in a very subtle way. So it is with the silence in Road to Nowhere. I can imagine that it isn’t the music is missing, more like the music is muffled and suppressed to muteness. There is weight to the silence that suggests the gag of a cover-up rather than peace. Unfortunately, all of these interesting and compelling stylistic choices only accentuate the weaknesses in the narrative telling. Because of this, the film feels closer to a first feature than the work of someone who has been making movies since 1959. Perhaps Road to Nowhere is meant as a lament — a filmmaker’s journey is always on a road to a place that never exists.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) has much in common with Road to Nowhere, but there are many distinctions too. The film’s narrative follows Martha (Elizabeth Olson), a cultist on the run, as she takes shelter in the home of her older sister Katie (Maria Dizzia) and husband Ted (Hugh Dancy). Martha struggles to keep the present separate from the past, hallucination from reality, the film shifts as she remembers past traumas within the domestic moments at Katie’s house. In an illusion similar, though more artful than Road to Nowhere, the film actually intercuts the present with the past in a way that is seamless and effective.