Bad Axe Movie Review

Bad Axe

IFC Films

Reviewed for Film Factual by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: David Siev

Writer: David Siev

Screened at: FYC screener, LA, 12/30/22

Opens: November 18th, 2022

Few people would say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been an easy time, and there are those for whom it has been particularly taxing. Running a restaurant can be tasking and draining even in normal times, and the need to enforce safety protocols and adapt to changing rules only further complicates that. For the Siev family, the owners of Rachel’s in Bad Axe, Michigan, making it through the early days of the pandemic in an extremely conservative area came with many challenges, which their son David documents in this vivid and affecting documentary.

Rachel’s is run by Chun and Rachel Siev. Chun is an immigrant from Cambodia who carries with him disturbing memories of the Killing Fields. When the pandemic begins, their daughter Jaclyn, still conducting her corporate day job from home as necessary, takes an active role in the restaurant. The increasing prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd spurs Jaclyn to activism, a choice that does not sit well with a number of Bad Axe residents and restaurant patrons.

It may well be too soon to understand the impact of films made during this pandemic because the world, the United States included, is still very much in it. There should be plenty to relate to for any viewer, such as the belief of the older generation that they are not especially vulnerable despite multiple preexisting conditions and a general uncertainty about what protocols matter and which will eventually be entirely forgotten. The intergenerational dynamics of the Siev family are particularly resonant since the notion that Jaclyn and her siblings might know best about an emerging new reality does not sit well with her parents.

Liberal audiences will surely have come across those who have expressed disgust at the rules they are following, and this film presents that in an intense and frightening sequence of filmed footage. When Jaclyn goes to a protest, she encounters armed militia members who attest that they are there for protection purposes when they clearly pose more of a threat, and things veer towards the terrifying when multiple patrons refuse to wear masks and to leave the restaurant while picking up their orders, insisting that they can’t understand what the Sievs are saying through their masks and boasting that they can’t be forced to do anything they don’t want to do.

Bad Axe, located about two hours north of Detroit and roughly the same distance from Michigan’s eastern border with Canada, is the kind of place that exists all across the country where political divisions have worsened as protective measures have become aligned with party affiliations and ideologies. There is an added dimension to the Sievs’ story, with Chun and his mother coming from somewhere they had to leave because of how bad things got, and, sadly but unsurprisingly, people in the Bad Axe community who tell him that he should simply go back to where he came from if he isn’t happy with the way things are.

Making his feature directorial debut, David impresses with a portrait of his family that feels authentic and appropriately removed from his own perspective, despite the fact that he clearly did have creative control over what he filmed and how he put it together. But he does seem remarkably able to zoom out and see his family members, and those in Bad Axe, for who they are. This film, which is on the Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Feature, ends on an uplifting and family-oriented note, showing the power of all types of community to be unifying and absolutely necessary in the face of challenging circumstances. 

102 minutes

Story – A-

Technical – B+

Overall – B+

IFC Films

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