Pickings film review: A slick, neo-noir Western drama

Photo Credit: Pickings Image Acquired from Digital Magic Entertainment, Usher Morgan
Photo Credit: Pickings Image Acquired from Digital Magic Entertainment, Usher Morgan /

The world of independent cinema is home to some of the most underappreciated and hidden gems that the world has never seen. It’s difficult to catch these flicks when they’re nowhere to be seen, but filmmaker Usher Morgan is looking to see that that won’t be the case with his newest film, the neo-noir/Western hybrid known as Pickings.

Genre hybrids are tough creatures to tackle in cinema. Making a film, especially on a considerably low budget, is already difficult enough, even with a singular genre story. But hybrids? That’s another beast all together. Creating a story that doesn’t implode due to the massive amounts of content being put in it is something of a grand accomplishment. My point is that creating a genre hybrid is possible, but not easy at all. However, up-and-coming filmmaker, Usher Morgan, tackles that challenge with stylistic gusto in his newest Western neo-noir film, Pickings.

Pickings 2018
Photo Credit: Pickings Image Acquired from Digital Magic Entertainment, Usher Morgan /

Usher Morgan may not have a recognizable name, but with the way his new film carries itself, it’s easy to be fooled that the film was made by a popular genre director with a high budget. Although he’s not a big name, he could very well be on his way to being one, seeing as how Pickings will receive a theatrical release in only a couple of months. Usher Morgan crafts his film in a method that oozes coolness and style, but will his unusual methods be effective in making Pickings a compelling watch? Will this be another case of style over substance, as we’ve seen from many independent filmmakers in the past?

Picked the Wrong Lady to Mess With

Usher Morgan’s slick and stylistic neo-noir Western film proves itself to be a film that provides both style AND substance, as Pickings prides itself as a slick and bloody ride, while also maintaining a sense of heart and depth to the characters of the story. Leading the violent fray is Jo Lee-Haywood (played by Elyse Price), a bar owner who lives a seemingly normal life with her children, Scarlet Lee-Haywood (Katie Vincent) being the eldest among them. However, past demons continue to haunt and torture Jo, which is amplified when a group of mobsters come by her bar to harass her and her family, forcing her to face her demons head-on. Thus, the stage has been set for a slick, but surprisingly character-driven crime drama.

Pickings 2018
Photo Credit: Pickings Image Acquired From Digital Magic Entertainment, Usher Morgan /

More from Hidden Remote

I say surprisingly because when it comes to films that clearly have a unique style they’re going for, it often leads to the film being cool on the surface but hollow beneath it. In the case of Pickings, it’s clear that the film doesn’t use its style as a crutch, but more of an ample support for the story. While not every single character is fully realized, the mobsters themselves feeling fairly one-dimensional, the Lee-Haywood family has a deep backstory that gradually gets revealed as the film goes on. There are layers to the family history and dynamic and it was fascinating and entertaining to see these characters progress through the story, whether it be getting their hands dirty in violence or simply chatting by the bar. Pickings may not present a truly groundbreaking story to the genre, but there IS an interesting story there, so much so that I wouldn’t mind a sequel, or even a television show, to help expand the story and universe.

“Pain…it runs through my veins”

Another reason why I feel Pickings deserves to be expanded is the assortment of interesting characters introduced in the universe. Usher Morgan has created an intriguing and incredibly watchable family, all of whom have more than capable actors filling their shoes. Joel Bernard, in particular, brings back the bygone era of Westerns with his mostly stoic, but undeniably badass performance as the cool and quiet Uncle Boone. Serving as something of a big brother to the Lee-Haywood family, literally, Boone conveys a mysterious presence every time he’s onscreen and Bernard plays this part to a tee, generating grand cinematic presence just with the lighting of his cigarette. I’d definitely like to see more of him in the future.

Pickings 2018
Photo Credit: Pickings Image – (pictured) Joel Bernard – Acquired From Digital Magic Entertainment, Usher Morgan /

Playing the secondary lead in Pickings is actress/composer Katie Vincent, playing the part of eldest daughter of the Lee-Haywood family, Scarlet. Much of her time in this film sees her struggle to accept the sinister backstory to the family, while also trying to live a simple life working at her mother’s bar. There’s quite a bit to tackle with Scarlet and Vincent does an admirable job pulling double duty with playing her character AND composing the film’s music. Vincent even plays one of her songs in the film in character, no less! Sometimes her delivery of lines was a little more cheesy than it needed to be, but Vincent does an otherwise great job with her character, nailing a specific confrontation with her mother late in the film. Speaking of her mother:

Pickings 2018
Photo Credit: Pickings Image – (pictured) Elyse Price – Acquired from Digital Magic Entertainment, Usher Morgan /

Elyse Price may not be a big name in the acting industry, as of now, but she absolutely should be if her performance in Pickings is any indication of her acting talent. Price plays the mysterious leading lady, Jo, who fights with mobsters and her tortured past, while trying to provide a normal life for her family. It may not be an entirely original premise, but nonetheless, Elyse Price makes up for it with a consistently entertaining and heartfelt performance that was an absolute joy to watch. Price is downright fantastic here, perfectly able to switch between caring mother and bar owner to cold and cynical warrior at a moment’s notice. She definitely goes for over-the-top in certain scenes, but she manages to display nuance and subtlety, in terms of her character’s past and attitude towards it. Price delivers on both the quiet and wild aspects of her character and delivers a performance that I may or may not revisit upon constructing my Best of 2018 list at the end of the year.

“Are you scared? Are you frightened?”

What makes Pickings stand out, apart from the acting from the three main leads, is the stylistic atmosphere that Morgan creates. There are many instances where the film switches from plain live-action to something akin to interpolated rotoscope. I’m not exactly sure if this is the method used, but think the visual style of A Scanner Darkly: a grimy, animated style that makes it look like something straight out of a graphic novel. Quite frankly, I’d love to see Usher Morgan tackle a graphic novel adaptation in the future, as he clearly has a knack and love for the style and genre. This mix between animation and live-action give Pickings a hyperealistic personality that shines throughout the film and it’s not the only use of great cinematography, as the visual style and placement of the camera always gives the viewers eye-candy and an uneasy feeling towards what may or may not happen next.

Pickings 2018
Photo Credit: Pickings Image – (pictured left) Joe Trombino, (pictured right) Michael Gentile – Acquired From Digital Magic Entertainment, Usher Morgan /

The atmosphere is strengthened by the musical work of Katie Vincent, who helped score the film. The strumming of her guitar is incredibly present throughout the film, so much so that it feels like a character itself, gently humming along to the story. The music is dark, moody and endlessly catchy and I would strongly suggest checking out the soundtrack to the film, if and when it becomes available to listen to.

That’s not to say that Pickings is without its flaws. The film’s atmosphere is uncanny and a little off, which really adds to the visual presentation, but can leave some questionable marks on the acting side of things. The three leads are great, of course, but beyond that, the rest of the supporting cast ranges from decent to off-the walls crazy. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy what I was watching, but sometimes the overacting could get a little too wild to truly take 100% seriously. This is a film that knows what it wants to be and it’s clear that Usher Morgan wants his actors to TRULY give it their all. Sometimes that led to a few cheeseball moments (particularly one involving the mob boss) and it’s easy to see if somebody may not give the film a chance because of that. That shouldn’t be the case at all, but be prepared to see a film where actors, whether you like them or not, will implant themselves in your brain by the end of the film, for better or for worse.

Pickings 2018
Photo Credit: Pickings Image Acquired from Digital Magic Entertainment, Usher Morgan /


Pickings will definitely not be a film for everyone. This film is incredibly unapologetic in its presentation and homage to previous westerns and noir films and that may turn some people off. It’s not an insult, it’s just a fact of life. However, the sheer creativity and passion behind this project is undeniable, from its gorgeous cinematography and lighting to its energetic acting (along with an accolade-worthy performance from Elyse Price) to its character driven story. Usher Morgan wanted to create a film that was equals parts completely badass and substance with a fun and emotional oddball of a western/noir hybrid.

Next: The start of Cloverfield 3 is underway

I definitely don’t think this film is perfect and some of its issues, mainly with cheese, overacting and unfortunate lack of depth in any part of its universe (with the exception of the Lee-Haywood family), will continue to be on my mind the next time I decide to watch the film. That being said, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t think this film was an absolute blast to watch, from start to finish. It’s slick, unique, incredibly confident in its presentation and just so entertaining to watch. The film didn’t even cost half a million dollars, reportedly costing only about $350,000, but the presentation makes this film easily look like one made with a $1,000,000 budget. I’d love to see more from Usher Morgan and though this isn’t perfect, I’d still recommend Pickings if you want a creatively insane hybrid crime drama. With lots of smoke.

Final Verdict: 7/10

Pickings will be released into theaters on March 2, 2018.