Slamdance Film Review: Rock Steady Row

Film Reviews

Rock Steady Row

Slamdance Film Festival
Director: Trevor Stevens

In a world where society has collapsed, tuition has skyrocketed, fraternities have taken over and bicycles dominate the campus economy, one freshman is on a mission to retrieve his stolen bicycle. This is the world created by Trevor Stevens in his debut feature film, Rock Steady Row.

This film plays beautifully with the conventions of genre and the expectations of the audience, adding a twist to the end of every act. The classic American action film has a general narrative structure so ubiquitous that you can generally tell where the story is going after the first 10 minutes and, while there is comfort in that familiarity, it’s nice to have that monotony broken up from time to time. That’s where this film really excels, taking every predictable moment and saying, “But what if we flipped that around?” There is a balance needed between fulfilling expectations, giving the comfort of the familiar and preventing predictability, and Rock Steady Row sits right in that happy middle ground.

There is also a nice balance in how this film deals with its own absurdity. At Rock Steady University, pencils are deadly weapons, fraternities rule like gangs and bicycles are worth dying for. It takes a commonplace problem, a stolen bike, and adds flair and oddity in perfect proportions to be humorous without reaching the level of self-parody. By taking a more serious approach to what is admittedly a pretty silly concept, Stevens is able to tell a compelling and moving story without ever losing the tension needed to make the audience really care about the characters. The sad moments are genuinely sad, in spite of their humorous context, and great care was taken to preserve the integrity of each scene.

That same level of care was carried into production. What the film lacked in resources, it more than made up for in its attention to detail. It is clear that this was a labor of love with intention spread throughout every moment. There is a sense of fun in this film that shows through in everything, particularly when it comes to the lighting and sound design. It almost needs a second viewing just to fully appreciate all of the subtle choices made to replace the expected with a surprise. My favorite example of this happens fairly early, in the opening sequence, when the sound of a pencil being sharpened is replaced with the sound of a knife.

I went into this film not knowing what to expect, even a little skeptical, and was surprised to find myself drawn completely into this strange alternate reality where I feel genuine concern for a man about to be hit with a pencil. Rock Steady Row provided a refreshing disruption to the tired old clichés and conventions I’ve come to expect from other films of its genre, and I am excited and hopeful to see more from Stevens. –Lois Brady

Jan. 22 // 7:30 p.m. // Gallery

Preceded by narrative short Welcome to Bushwick (USA), directed by Henry Jinings.

Read more of SLUG‘s comprehensive coverage of the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival.