A young boy named Solomon (Brody Bett) who we quickly realize is blind and tethered to the cabin he lives in, checks animal traps with a long stick as his mother Nidia (Alexandra Paul, Christine, Baywatch) looks on. Back home she oversees his efforts to gut and clean a squirrel caught in one of them.
Years later the now grown Solomon (Jared Laufree) lives alone, his mother having vanished with no explanation. He lives alone, but still follows the three rules she drilled into his head. To always give back to the forest which provides for him, when his will is almost gone, find comfort in their song, and, most importantly, never, ever let go of the rope.
Director Daniel Robinette, who is one of an astonishing seven credited writers, based Tethered on his 2017 short of the same name which also featured Laufree as Solomon. He gives us very few clues as to what’s going on. A recording made by the boy’s father Lucas (Chris Demm, Hank vs. The Undead) says that he has to leave for unspecified reasons and that Nidia is sick and moving out here hasn’t helped her like they hoped it would. What her illness is or why moving to the middle of nowhere would help we don’t know.
The first half-hour of Tethered is very slow-paced, especially after Nidia exits. Apart from a few clever moments such as Solomon fishing with a bell tied to the pole to tell him if he has a bite or the device he uses to split firewood the proceedings verge on dull. A couple of POV shots from in the trees or an odd noise in the distance hint at the presence of someone or something but it’s not enough to lift the film from its doldrums.
It’s not until a hunter named Hank (Kareem Ferguson, Talking with the Taxman About Poetry, Something Blue) stumbles across Solomon that things pick up a bit. But that doesn’t mean things suddenly become exciting. Tethered is much more of a two-character drama and really is to horror films what the similar two-hander A Knight’s Tour was to post-apocalyptic science fiction.
Actually, with its small cast and completely isolated setting, I first thought Tethered was set after some kind of catastrophe and that Solomon’s mother was suffering radiation poisoning. And that the unseen creature was some sort of mutation. But if the setting is post-apocalyptic it’s never mentioned.
We do get some atmospheric sequences once Hank first goes out looking for the creature, but the film still focuses as much on Solomon and his inner turmoil over whether or not to disobey the rule to never let go of the rope and help Hank track the beast. It feels almost as though it’s a metaphor for growing up and becoming one’s own person, even if it means rejecting, or letting go of what we were raised to believe.
Unfortunately, we also get an ending that leaves a lot of questions unanswered and goes from effective to ludicrous in a literal blink of an eye. It almost feels like they were running out of time and money so they just threw something together at the last moment. With seven writers there’s no reason for so many questions to be left unanswered or for nobody to have realized how bad the final shot would look.
Still, for something shot on what appears to be an almost non-existent budget and with a mostly inexperienced cast, Tethered is a surprisingly well-done film. Just expect something that’s a very slow burn and more of a drama/thriller than a monster movie.
Gravitas Ventures has released Tethered in selected theaters and on VOD and Digital platforms. And, as always, if it’s not what you’re looking for but you want something similar, FilmTagger has some suggestions.