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Originally published Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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Movie review

'How the Fire Fell': Oregon family descends into madness

A movie review of "How the Fire Fell," from Portland filmmaker Edward P. Davee, who adds to the soggy culture of Northwest noir with this fantastic if too-oblique story, set in 1903 Corvallis, Ore., of a family decimated by the influence of a mad preacher.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'How the Fire Fell,' with Joe Haege, David Poland, Maren McGuire, Brighid Thomas. Written and directed by Edward P. Davee. 81 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains nudity, sexual situations and some violence). Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

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Haunting if unnecessarily obscure, Portland writer-director Edward P. Davee's "How the Fire Fell" is one of those Northwest noir experiences of rain, madness and murder.

Think "Twin Peaks" set in Corvallis, Ore., in 1903, and you begin to get the idea. The story starts not with a dead girl-next-door type but with several well-bred sisters (plus their mother and one brother) who lose their sanity via the ecstatic ravings of a young preacher named Edmund Creffield (Joe Haege).

Creffield drives most churchgoers away with his unhinged ranting about sin and the flesh. But not the wife, daughters and son of the stoic O.V. Hurt (David Poland), who are wholly, mysteriously and shockingly taken with this figure who claims to be the next father of a messiah.

The seemingly helpless Hurt watches his beautiful family become a cult of twitching, convulsing acolytes (and, eventually, sexual servants) to a crazy man. Creffield even throws the stooped Hurt out of the patriarch's modestly handsome home.

Though the tale grows more sordid, Davee approaches it as a phenomenon of extreme human experience erupting against a fragile, frontier civility.

Cinematographer Scott Ballard's gorgeous, silvery images, the compressed energy of Davee's framing and a remarkable cast make this a unique experience. Where the film falls short is in its basic obligation to tell an accessible story.

Davee orbits the action as if it were the murky memory of one of the Hurts or if we'd run across the events in a historical archive and began dreaming about it. Exposition and dialogue are rare. That's a provocative approach but leaves a viewer straining to follow an oblique narrative.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@gmail.com

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