Panic Fest 2021: Below the Fold brings a new face to KC’s filmmaking community
Clayton Scott makes his debut with a homegrown thriller.
Kansas City has had several home-grown filmmakers stake their claim in the world of genre filmmaking in the last 12 months, in both short and long-form. In addition to Jill “Sixx” Gevargizian’s The Stylist, which continues to rack up regional, national, and international attention, and Ben and Jacob Burghart’s well-received short Suspension, this year’s Panic Fest gives us one more local film of note: writer-director Clayton Scott’s Below the Fold, a moody journalism thriller in the vein of David Fincher and fellow hometown hero Gillian Flynn.
Below the Fold follows a Maryville-based reporter, David (The Stylist’s Davis DeRock), who’s asked by his editor (Daniel Compo) to do an anniversary piece on a tragic, unsolved missing persons case. Lisa (Sarah McGuire), a new reporter at the paper and David’s old flame, takes a particular interest in the story. To David’s increasing frustration, Lisa’s investigation into the decade-old disappearance of Skidmore teen Susie Potter—and a potentially related murder case—takes the story from a routine reporting gig to full-on amateur sleuthing. Threatening situations, loose ends, personal vendettas, and life-altering obsessions ensue.
Scott’s script provides some solid twists and turns, and the movie is notable for how it portrays actual settings in Missouri (and some Kansas-based exterior shots—I see you, Ladybird Diner!) while also not shying away from some of the less comfortable aesthetic and social truths about the area it portrays. Some parts of Skidmore and Maryville look pleasant. A lot of them don’t. Look for any length of time at the rural communities Scott portrays, and you’ll see some uncomfortable trends of abuse and pain, again, not unlike Flynn’s own portrayal of Missouri and Kansas in books like Dark Places and Sharp Objects.
Speaking of Flynn, there’s also a strong aesthetic connection here to Fincher’s more recent work, particularly Zodiac and Gone Girl. Scott and his cast and crew make strong use of Fincher-friendly muddy browns, greys, and greens in the cinematography, lighting, and costume choices. It’s a move that feels appropriate to the subject matter and the setting. Scott’s script even borrows a couple of significant story beats from Zodiac involving the interrogation of one possible suspect and the tense revelation of another, much more likely one.
Below the Fold isn’t without its limitations, but makes good use of its location and resources. Scott has clear goals for what he wants to accomplish here and takes inspiration from excellent sources in doing so. During a period where making and distributing low-budget independent films—movies which are often the product of years of hard work—has been heartbreakingly difficult for a lot of folks, it’s exciting to see that Kansas City’s film community has still managed to thrive. Adding Scott to its growing ranks is one more thing to be happy about.