There are a handful of similarities between Atom Egoyan's acclaimed The Sweet Hereafter (1997) and Gaby Della's applause-worthy Angels Crest. Both explore the aftermath of children's deaths in self-contained communities, the difference being in the number of tiny coffins: a busload vs. one. Both are also based on well-received novels: the former by the renowned Russell Banks, the latter by the far less known Leslie Schwartz. Additionally, both are extremely well directed and showcase a first-rate cast.
Leading the gaggle of worthy thespians including the likes of Mira Sorvino, Elizabeth McGovern and Jeremy Piven is the too-cute-to-be-real Thomas Dekker. Last seen as an ambisexual college student in the semi-soft-porn extravaganza Kaboom and as the gay Lance Loud in Cinema Verite, Dekker plays against type here and succeeds winningly. He embodies the scruffy, 21-year-old, rednecky Ethan, who while stalking deer one wintry day fatally loses track of his three-year-old son Nate (Ameko Eks Mass Carroll).
The tot, who never really had much of a chance -- after all, his mother Cindy (Lynn Collins), who gave him up, is a self-pitying alcoholic nympho -- grabs more attention with his death than he ever did with his life. In the days after his demise, a reality sets in that almost all children are eventually abandoned by their parents either emotionally or physically.
Jane (McGovern) gave up her son to be in a lesbian relationship. Cindy's mom (Barbara Williams) abandoned her for religion; Angie (Sorvino), while running her restaurant, oftens misplaces her young daughter; and Jack (Piven), the prosecutor gunning for Ethan's scalp, has experienced a tragedy that has left him without an heir. And so it goes.
Connecting all these stories is Ethan's overwhelming grief and guilt. The one light in his life and the only person who ever returned his love is now underground. We watch as this open wound of a father slowly fragments. Thanks to Dekker's brave, nuanced performance, this vision is simultaneously thrilling and harrowing.