State representative Walter O'Brien (James Woods) is in the Montana town of Northfork to assist with its evacuation for the whole plain that it sits on is to be flooded when the local dam is shut down. However, he also has a personal reason for being there, as his late wife is buried in the cemetery and he has been sent a final letter warning him and his son Willis (Mark Polish) that her coffin should be moved before the waters overtake the land. It's just that Walter can't decide on what to do with it or where to take it. The state authority men have other things to worry about as well, that is to persuade those who still haven't left their homes to do so, and one who hasn't moved yet is local priest Father Harlan (Nick Nolte), for he is nursing a dying child, Irwin (Duel Farnes).
The ghostly appeal of submerged villages may hold a strange fascination, especially for exploring divers, but in the Polish brothers' Northfolk, the third in a loose trilogy, the intrigue stems from the village during its last forty-eight hours before the water comes. Written by Mark, who appears, and directed by Michael, who doesn't, they both produced and if they had one thing going for them it was their adherence to their vision which was closely informed by a dream logic. Shot in an almost, but not quite, monochrome, the film had plenty of atmosphere, yet there was a precious quality about the oddities on display that could be offputting.
The narrative shifts between the weird and the mundane with ease until by the end of the story it's diffcult to see the difference. The Polish brothers certainly garnered some fine talent to interpret their tale, but only Woods, an executive producer on the project, really stands out, with a whispery Nolte subdued to the point of soporific, and the collection of eccentrics in Irwin's visions too quirky. Those otherworldly eccentrics include Daryl Hannah in a ruff and Anthony Edwards with wooden hands and opticians' lens-testing glasses, both examples of the rather studied nature of the surrealism. They seem to live on the plain, and are awaiting a visit from an angel which Irwin claims to be. But is he?
Angels are something of a preoccupation with the film, as they supposedly inhabited the countryside before Northfork was established, and Father Harlan thinks Irwin is an angel as well. The religious angle is fuzzily portrayed to the extent that it begins to grate when you begin to wonder what exactly it is trying to convey about faith, so you're better to concentrate on the incidental pleasures. There is humour, as when the men from the state authority track down the stubborn few who still hold out in their isolated homes, such as the pious man (Marshall Bell) who lives in a self-built ark with his two wives as if he were the new Noah, or the fellow who sits on his porch and takes potshots at whoever draws near. And in addition to that, when Walter says to his son, "What are you talking about, Willis?" - that has to be a Diff'rent Strokes reference, hasn't it? If you let Northfork's woozy ambience drift over you, you may enjoy it, but it's all too deliberate in execution for most. Music by Stuart Matthewman.