The Word exists solely because Norwalk, Connecticut-based businessman Steve Grimaldi decided to invest about $200,000 of his own money to bring his thriller script to cinematic life. Presumably because he was willing to put up the budget for an entire production, no one told him that his screenplay was far too awful to seriously contemplate shooting. On top of this unfortunate starting point, director Gregory W. Friedle, his cast, and crew perform their jobs so poorly across the board, it’s an inadvertent negative demonstration of the professionalism separating even the shoddiest Hollywood production from this kind of self-financed amateur-hour attempt.
It seems unfair to vituperate a labor of love that shouldn’t even be up for review, but co-financer Scarlet Sky Productions is quixotically moving ahead with a one-week theatrical run in NYC and L.A., placing The Word in the awkward position of being considered as a real movie. As grieving single father Tom Hawkins (Kevin O’Donnell) discovers early, his son was kidnapped by some kind of group—“like a cult, but not Satanic.” In a Death Sentence-esque trajectory, Tom is torn between staying true to his religious beliefs or tracking and killing the punks responsible for his kid’s death. Meanwhile, an FBI team led by Mike Sheehy (James Naughton) tries to beat him to the punch.
Scenes in The Word all too frequently consist of characters telling each other in great detail things we’ve just seen in the previous scenes, sometimes in the exact same language. Such redundant expository filler doesn’t conceal the fact that remarkably little happens until a flurry of ill-advised activity at the end. (Think Prisoners, with a Mayan-sacrifice twist.) In the meantime, there’s a lot of Tom demonstrating grief, and O’Donnell simply isn’t good enough to make this anything more than a rote spectacle: crying, moaning, pushing back his hair, rolling his eyes, exhaling loudly, alternately controlling tears and letting them loose. This thrashing goes on at comical length, nearly always in close-up. Neither Friedle nor cinematographer Matthew Boyd have any interest in cutting away from big, screen-filling close-ups, so even when O’Donnell is in an interesting-looking location—a church, or an odd castle planted in the middle of the Connecticut landscape—all they show is the actor’s strenuously anguished face.
There’s exactly one shot with something interesting to look at: seagulls perching on the letters “MOTEL” at a particularly tacky locale. Characterization of both the hero and the shadowy enemy is sketchy and not particularly convincing: Tom is a citizen with elevated status in town because his boss “is the economic advisor to the president,” while the cult he’s facing off against lapsed from a devotional prayer group to more Satanic activities. The takeaway lesson, a group informant says, is “we should’ve just kept it Christian.” During his court-ordered therapy, Tom confirms his fundamental dullness. When asked “What do you like to read?” he answers “Business books, mostly.”—a typically scintillating exchange in this dreary regional vanity product.