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Watch This Short Film Where Will Oldham Tells a Really Twisted Bedtime Story

"Pioneer" is simple, but powerful.

by Jeffrey Bowers
May 7 2015, 6:00pm

The incredible thing about bedtime stories is that they can bleed into your dreams when told correctly. What begins as a story told by a father tucking in his son in David Lowery's 2011 film, Pioneer, quickly turns much darker and cryptic and poignant. Danger, shootings, scalpings, and death weave their way in, yet all the while the young boy remains entranced.

The film is simple, but powerful. With only two characters carrying the dialogue-driven story, Lowery called upon musician and modern-day rambler Will Oldham to play the father, because his songs and weathered voice often recall the folktales of yore. His four-year-old costar Myles Brooks has the wide eyes and inquisitive spirit to bring Oldham's story into the realm of possibility.

Lowery manages to bolster Pioneer by removing as many distractions as possible and bringing subtle nuances to the surface. All that changes is the timbre of Oldham's voice, the volume of the rain and thunder, and a few perfectly-timed lighting cues, sound effects, and a haunting string score. The effect is dramatic and feels transcendent—the way only the best bedtime stories are.

David Lowery is an award-winning short filmmaker who won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW Film Festival with Pioneer. His 2013 western followup Ain't Them Bodies Saints starred Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara and premiered at Sundance to strong critical praise. His newest Walt Disney–produced feature, Pete's Dragon is due out in 2016 starring Bryce Dallas Howard alongside Robert Redford. When he's not busy making his own movies, Lowery can be found editing and producing talked-about indie films like Upstream Color, Sun Don't Shine, and Listen Up Philip.

Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as a film curator. He's the Senior Curator for Vimeo's On Demand platform. He has also programmed at Tribeca Film Festival, Rooftop Films, and the Hamptons International Film Festival.