This past weekend I was able to check out an independent film called The Shuroo Process at The Big Apple Film Festival in New York City. It must be said that I am not one to normally go to a film festival. Not because I don’t like them, but usually because I need something to draw me into watching a movie. It has to be either a story that I’m interested in or maybe an actor that I enjoy. For this it was me being a big fan of Fiona Dourif and the need to see her in more projects that don’t involve horror. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love her work as Nica in the Chucky franchise, but she has a talent that can be stretched far more. The Shuroo Process works as a great gateway into her work but it also as a film that breaks the average filmgoer’s view on Independent Film.
The Shuroo Process is about journalist Parker Schafer (Dourif) whose life is a mess. She’s a partier, an alcoholic, a self-sabotager, and all of this is made worse when her boyfriend decides to break up with her. On top of all that, she’s forced to leave her job after an incident at a high-profile party and decides to seek help in the form of a retreat up in the Catskills. The Shuroo Process feels as though it is a cross between 2012’s comedy Wanderlust and this year’s Hulu series Nine Perfect Strangers.
When the group of “lost” people arrive at the retreat they each represent a stereotype one usually sees in these types of projects. To name a few: the struggling couple, the nonbeliever, and the one who is willing to give it their all. They all come for a weekend and quickly become enthralled by their guru, Shuroo (Donal Brophy) aka Declan, and it’s quite easy to see why. Declan is able to use his charisma and listening skills to manipulate moments for people to help them process why they were brought there, to begin with.
Parker is a complete mess when she arrives, more than what one weekend could fix, but even though she rolls her eyes to most of what Shuroo attempts with her, it actually begins some healing for her. Willie (Hakeem Kaw-Kazim) is recently finding it hard to forgive himself for his loved one leaving but letting go allows himself to strike up a romance with Jane (Cornelia Guest) who is also just coming off of a bad breakup.
At Big Apple Film Festival, we were treated to a Q&A with director Emrhys Cooper (who also acts in the film as a husband who feels the strains his father had always put on him) and during the Q&A he spoke to how at its heart, The Shuroo Process attempts to teach us not to put our complete belief in false leaders. Although this is true given the crazy situations that unfold over this weekend, I feel that this film also teaches us that sometimes we can’t be our own therapist and opening up to a stranger is a big, helpful step that certainly helps towards a healing process. I, of all people, am a big advocate of the idea that it is never too late to seek help.
It took me till I was almost thirty to get myself into a spot where I believed therapy could help me process the traumas of my childhood that I’ve so often just fed on for my creativity. I guess it’s in that sense that Parker’s character really stood out for me. The Shuroo Process is really a jumping-off place for her character that is bigger and continues when the ending credits begin to roll.
The Shuroo Process’s story is one that seems to be happening more and more in modern media, and what made this film actually work was the time it was decided to make it different from its counterparts. 2012’s Wanderlust lays heavenly on its humor to the point where it feels as though it is bullying the lifestyle. 2021’s Nine Perfect Strangers dives really into the psychology of it all. When it attempts to give us “humor” it just doesn’t work and feels out of place. The Shuroo Process attempts to take elements from both of these projects and merge them together. It works at times when the comedy is being done subtly. Quirky lines, or moments where Parker is just in a state of “why on earth am I here”.
Where it doesn’t work is when the comedy becomes the basis of the scene. Certain characters like Seraphina (Taylor Bagley) are played just like the over-the-top cult figures found in Wanderlust. I understand that those types of people exist but given the tone of the characters up before she is introduced, Seraphina feels out of place. I don’t care for over-the-top comedy which is probably why I don’t care for the obnoxiousness of Wanderlust. I think if you are trying hard to make a moment funny then you are wasting time on what that moment should really be about.
Tom’s (Jeff Burnett) entire role in this film was basically to appear in the strangest of places during group exercises, say or do something obnoxious and go away. He was basically playing the Danny McBride part. It’s those “McBride” type scenes like him asking Sandy (Lynn Mancinelli) in the car if he could basically jerk off with her foot, that took me completely out of the film and made me go “really?” Because you had me in the movie, I was completely yours until things like that would happen.
What makes even the most out-there of comedy scenes (such as the reenactment plays put on towards the end) so powerful and work are the subtler moments given to the characters. It’s these moments where the audience is allowed to see the vulnerabilities among each individual that allows us each to connect with someone different. As I said above, I connected with Parker because of our shared guilt (even though I did not turn to alcohol or drugs). She says in the film that she “had to confront her past in order to move on” which is a statement I’ve also been working on myself.
Shuroo’s private moments feel almost as though they are given to not only help that specific character but to act as a message to a viewer who may be going through something similar. Rainey Qualley’s Nadia is a sexual abuse survivor, who was also my other stand-out performance, and the subtle journey we are taken on through her is so special in that we see how it not only affects her but those around her.
Did The Shuroo Process have its issues? Sure. Was the story pretty paint-by-numbers? At times it certainly felt that way. What makes The Shuroo Process well worth your time though, is the fact that it has a lot of heart and really believes in the story it’s trying to tell. I’ll certainly watch it again though. Heck, it’s coming to Video On Demand on November 24th and there’s a link on their Instagram page to preorder it! I was glad to see Fiona Dourif thrive in a role that she completely made her own, and I’m happy this little independent film is going to be available for others to check out because there really is something for everyone in it. In the words of Guru Shuroo himself, “Namaste Motherf*ckers”.