Uncertain (2015)

Subtle, beautifully shot, absorbing documentary about the residents of Uncertain, a small town in the southern US, so remote that it barely exists.

Road to Nowhere

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

How Uncertain, a town of 94 inhabitants on the borders of Louisiana and Texas, got its name is never explained in this documentary but it was surely nominative determinism. In the remote, misty bayous dripping with Spanish moss on the shores of Caddo Lake, rural life moves so slowly that it’s almost at a standstill and the only sounds are the cicadas. As the sheriff says, Uncertain is in the middle of nowhere and you have to be lost to find it.

In this Deliverance-type setting, Uncertain takes an appraising but compassionate look at the decay of rural American society and potential environmental disaster through the lives of three local men that somehow complement each other. Middle-aged Wayne, who has part-Native American ancestry, is obsessed with catching a giant wild boar he’s named Mr Ed and we follow him on his night hunting treks through the undergrowth with his gun. Henry is an elderly black man, who quietly fishes for catfish in his boat every day in the placid waters, and is thinking of marrying again after the loss of his wife of 50 years. Skinny Zach is in his twenties, with his diabetes aggravated by his constant drinking – the only occupation for him, he believes, in Uncertain, where the bars are mainly populated by men as most of the women have left. He’s dreaming of leaving and finding a job in Austin.

Gradually, the three men’s stories are revealed as they talk surprisingly openly to the camera. Though they may seem unsympathetic, it’s endearing. Two of them have killed a man in the past and we see their different ways of dealing with that legacy and finding a kind of redemption. We see the dangers of the American health system as Zach runs out of money to pay for the daily insulin he needs. And we see the threat to the survival of the lake as it’s choked with Giant Salvinia, a fast-growing weed, and scientists’ ambitious plan to counter this by introducing weevils.

Uncertain builds slowly into a compelling narrative, using simply languid takes and natural sounds. Its achievement is to make you care about these lives and the struggles of a small community on the brink of extinction in a nowhere place that at first seems to be so remote and so alien.

Uncertain is released on 10 March 2017 in the UK.

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