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“Artik” is an ambitious, well-acted film with a high concept that asks more questions than it answers during the film’s brisk run time.

For there to be heroes, there must also be villains. This is a good way to sum up writer and director Tom Botchii’s feature film debut that centers on a comic book obsessed serial killer who is grooming his son to follow in his sinister footsteps.

The titular character, Artik, is a twisted impoverished farmer who regards comic books as if they were holy scripture and has become enraptured with the idea of finding a true hero. He habitually attacks and murders people as a way of “testing” them in order to find the hero that he seeks.

Along for the ride is a child that he only refers to as Boy. It’s unclear if Boy is Artik and his wife Flin’s son or a child that was kidnapped by them at a young age. He is just one of many young boys that Artik and Flin refer to as sons and make tend to their sunflower crop. The boys are dirty and unkempt and cowed in demeanor.

Boy, in his spare time, can be found sneaking around with a can of spray paint and creating his own graffiti. This is how he meets Holton, a man who has a troubled past that he himself is trying desperately from which to heal. Boy and Holton make a connection, and Holton takes him under his wing. It’s only then that we learn Boy is actually named Adam.

As the two form a brotherly bond, Holton begins to suspect that there is something seriously wrong with Boy’s family dynamic. His resulting investigation leads to unmitigated chaos.

If you want a movie that will give you easy answers, Artik is not for you.

Artik is a movie that asks you to infer from what it gives you. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there are viewers out there that want details spelled out to them.

The origins of Boy, Holton, Artik, Flin, and the other boys are shrouded in mystery. There are some clues here and there, such as Holton making an impassioned and beautifully written and performed speech while doing group therapy that alludes to a past with alcoholic parents. Artik lives in the moments that it captures, while you fill in the gaps and draw on your own experiences and knowledge to do so.

Fans of true crime documentaries should be able to easily do so — and relish it all the while because much of the movie feels like being plopped down into the middle of real life nightmare involving a cult like serial killer, his devoted wife, and several boys that more than likely are kidnapping victims.

The dialogue in Artik is intriguing and hypnotic for many, many reasons.

Artik himself speaks much like a man of God. His words carry religious connotations and an air of someone who truly believes what he is saying. Comic books are the gospel in this movie, and Artik preaches his gospel to Flin and to the boys as well with the steady surety of a preacher. His obsession with true heroes and purity and his ravings are just one of the most interesting facets of the film.

Holton himself is given some great pieces of dialogue as well. His speech in group therapy and his conversations with Boy give way to some of the most genuinely insightful parts of the film as a whole. “If all you ever knew was chaos, would you ever be able to change?” asks Holton while in group. It’s an earnest and striking question that is the lynchpin for his and Boy’s characters.

Both have been inundated in chaos, but can they truly rise above that to reach their full potentials?

The performances in the film are solid.

Lauren Ashley Carter is a stand out as Flin, despite being a supporting character. Carter’s ability to embody any character thrown at her never ceases to amaze me, and her turn in Artik is definitely no different. Chase Williamson gives a pensive and provocative performance as Holton. There’s a real tenderness to the character that Williamson brings that is extremely effective.

In all honesty, I didn’t even realize that he is the same actor who played John Hardesty in the delightful 80’s send up Beyond the Gates. Like Carter, he impressively differentiates his character from the ones that he has played in the past. I can say with confidence that I look forward to what he does in the future and hope that he sticks with the horror genre.

Jerry G. Angelo is wonderfully creepy as Artik and brings a sort of evenhandedness to the serial killer. There’s always an unsettling amount of calm to Artik. Gavin White does tremendously considering his young age and limited dialogue. Most of his acting is done through facial expression and body language, something that even older actors have difficulty mastering.

All in all, Artik is an impressive first feature from Tom Botchii.

He seems to be interested in a less is more technique when approaching his script while not shying away from some gruesome and bloody visuals. It all manages to be both slick and jarring at the same time.

One of my few complaints is that the movie’s runtime felt all too short for what it was trying to accomplish. However, that could be simply be me and my want for a bit more backstory.

Artik is available September 10th on Blu-ray and VOD from Epic Pictures and DREAD.

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