‘Cassidy Red’: Film Review | DWF 2017

Matt Knudsen’s female-driven Western ‘Cassidy Red’ co-stars Abigail Eiland, David Thomas Jenkins and Jason Grasl locked in a heated love triangle.

As an alternate take on a male-driven genre, Matt Knudsen’s period Western features a female protagonist and plenty of talented women behind the scenes, but comes up short delivering on the expected character conflicts and action sequences. There are sufficient viewers, however, who might consider this approach intriguing enough to eventually seek out Cassidy Red on VOD or streaming platforms.

Not long after Mexico ceded large swaths of the Southwest and Arizona became a U.S. territory, settlers established the outpost of Ruby as a gold- and sliver-mining center. As the town took root, ancillary businesses sprang up, including the requisite saloons and bordellos, along with the marginally criminal types frequenting such establishments. Red-headed Josephine “Joe” Cassidy (Abigail Eiland) emerges as a consequence of this dubious cultural development sometime in the 1850s, the illegitimate daughter of a bargirl and a bounty hunter.

The Bottom Line

A bit wide of the mark.

Joe’s mother raises her in that house of ill repute, but when she’s preoccupied with customers, she sends Joe off to her father Cort’s (Rick Cramer) ranch, where she learns the essential skills of swearing and firearms handling. The utility of these particular talents doesn’t become clear until years later, when Joe embarks on a vengeful mission to save the love of her life from the gallows. You see, it seems that spending all that time on the ranch gave Joe the opportunity to solidify a competitive love triangle with her two young male neighbors. Tom (David Thomas Jenkins) is the boastful son of the town’s richest rancher, lording his status over Jakob (Jason Grasl), his adopted Apache brother.

Although both are in love with Joe, Tom loses her to Jakob after she rejects his obsessive possessiveness, as well as his marriage offer. Even after he becomes the town’s sheriff he can’t seem to win her back, so he tries the next best thing: eliminating Jakob by jailing him on trumped-up murder charges. Now to get him back, Joe’s going to need all her wits, as well as those gunfighting skills, to outmaneuver Tom and his menacing henchmen.

Featuring a much lower body count than most Westerns, Knudsen’s feature relies primarily on relationship dynamics to raise the stakes. With such a small cast, however, it’s a stretch to build much tension, particularly when the three principal characters appear together in a limited number of scenes. An awkward narrative framing device and frequent shifts between time periods further disrupt plot cohesion as Knudsen’s script attempts to backfill the history of rivalry among the trio.

As the center of attention. Eiland’s Joe makes for an unpredictable firecracker, but her love for Jakob rarely seems as strong as her drive for revenge against Tom. Jenkins does his best to make Tom seem threatening, but comes across as more mean than menacing, while Grasl plays Jakob as non-confrontational to a fault.  

Knudsen and his team excel however in re-creating period details, with cinematographer Julia Swain washing the film’s dusty vistas in glowing golden light that emphasizes Lauren Ivy’s immersive production design and Brianna Quick’s realistic costumes.

Production company: Scorpion Stomper Productions

Cast: Abigail Eiland, David Thomas Jenkins, Jason Grasl, Rick Cramer, Gregory Zaragoza, Jessy Knudsen, Lola Kelly

Director-writer: Matt Knudsen

Producers: Matt Knudsen, Brooks Yang

Director of photography: Julia Swain

Production designer: Lauren Ivy

Costume designer: Brianna Quick

Editor: John Lange

Venue: Dances With Films