Folks from Reno have made a movie. And with a good storyline, solid acting and a kick-ass soundtrack, director James A. Ishoy’s Pyramid Highway is actually pretty good. The film attracted local attention at a high-profile, Hollywood-style movie premier held in Reno last month.
Ishoy and producer Katie Ishoy-Baker began production on the movie more than two years ago. Working with rookie screenwriter Ken Locke, they developed a plan to finance the film using capital from their day jobs. This included getting free food sponsorship from local businesses on filming days. That sort of parsimony, and the filmmakers’ local origins, means that some Northern Nevadans will recognize shooting locations like Pure Country Dance Hall & Saloon in Sparks.
The movie revolves around the charmless main character, Carly Heck, played by the very charming actress Monica Jayne Booth. Carly likes to have babies with drug abusers, have affairs with married cops, screw random barflies, and scare the crap out of her children. She would no doubt continue on this way forever, or at least until the cocaine eats off her nose, except her baby daddy overdoses while heavily indebted to a drug dealer named Gary (Robert Michael Haley). Gary wants his money and seeks it by harassing Carly. Death threats, desperation and an unsuccessful career in drug-dealing follow.
Largely because of Carly’s rancid personality, the getting-to-know-you part of the movie feels like a nice swim in the septic tank. Carly mostly runs around being pissed off. First, she’s pissed at her two young girls for failing to answer the door, then she’s pissed at her food for catching on fire, then she’s pissed at her husband for dying. It would get really irritating watching her stomp around between screaming fits if not for the clever use of humor. Especially good is the barroom banter where minor characters mock Carly.
“Anybody who’d do that is too lazy to jack off” is one of the cleaner jokes.
But, as Carly’s world falls apart, Booth’s performance takes her beyond one dimension. As she loses her kids and Gary’s deadline closes in, the irritable Carly becomes the frightened Carly. At its best, Pyramid Highway is tragic, understated and morally complex. This is a movie that unsentimentally shows the steady decline of a woman already scraping bedrock.
However, Pyramid Highway does fall down in some major spots. The character Hunter, played by Anthony Specchio, and his tedious morality monologues ruin at least two scenes. The nudity is mostly gratuitous too; Carly is naked about a third of her screen time, for no apparent reason, and the other two major female characters also get naked. The nudity mostly gets in the way of the story.
Minor complaints also include inconsistent sound-mixing, the fact that Carly can’t figure out a way to raise $5,000 but drives a brand new pickup, and the 900 or so scenes that involve a character waking up in the middle of the day. That said, movies with budgets hundreds of times larger have had bigger problems.
Pyramid Highway uses a mostly local cast, including Booth, Michael S. Barnett playing a corrupt cop, Fernley native Specchio, and former brothel worker and reality starlet Shelly Duschel.
Ishoy-Baker describes the film as the culmination of her years working as an actress, wanting to make a feature film and observing depressed lives in Nevada.