In the spirit of Knives Out and other modern whodunnits, indie flick Hayseed depicts an engaging treat that challenges viewers to actually pay attention. Writer/director/producer Travis Burgess embraces his obvious inspirations with a loving touch of admiration that permeates the film. The phrase “passion project” is maybe a tad bit overused, yet that perfectly describes the creator’s enthusiasm for this material. Shot in its entirety at his hometown of Eaton Rapids, Burgess stitches the DNA of the area into his energetic script. After playing numerous film festivals since 2020 and winning several awards in the process, Hayseed has finally blossomed for audiences everywhere to enjoy.
The film’s setup will be familiar to virtually anyone, especially procedural fanatics or murder-mystery consumers. An opening sequence where the body of the victim is discovered, followed by the arrival of an investigating individual, roster of potential suspects, and of course, a lengthy monologue revealing the truth of what actually happened—the bread and butter of any good whodunnit. In the case of Hayseed, an esteemed reverend is discovered dead, allegedly accidentally drowned in his own baptismal pool. Private investigator Leo Hobbins (Bill Sage, American Psycho, Mysterious Skin), a former cop, rolls into town one week later on behalf of the insurance company to complete a quick open-and-shut insurance claim. Little does he know, things here at Emmaus Holy are anything but ordinary.
Against his better judgment, Leo is forced to interview the entire set of congregation members at the church. Secretary Darlene Halsey (Ismenia Mendes, Orange is the New Black, Evil), the same person who urged the insurance company to investigate, may be hiding secrets of her own. Joyce Metts (Kathryn Morris, Cold Case, Minority Report) has never missed a Sunday service, and remains convinced that Darlene had her hooks in the reverend all along. Her daughter, Willa Metts (Marta Piekarz, Queer as Folk, The Binge), is just months away from heading down south with a full scholarship from LSU. Willa’s clingy boyfriend, Duck McIlrath (Jack Falahee, How to Get Away with Murder, Mercy Street), a recovering alcoholic and odd-job trucker, insists that his close bond with the reverend discounts him as a suspect. Rounding out the group is credit union manager/small town baron Don Fulcher (Nolan North, Uncharted, Pretty Little Liars) and hearing-impaired janitor Bob Gilkerson (David Luther Glover). One among them appears to have orchestrated the reverend’s demise—or was it a suicide? Cue the red herrings, incompetent cops, and bumbling personalities.
Hayseed is so much fun to watch because the old school mystery vibes blend pleasurably with the distinct characters and sharp writing. Each of the suspects seem feasible, especially as Leo floats around his theories with law enforcement local, Trooper Gellis (Kyle Jurassic). Darlene emerges as unexpected de-facto co-lead of the film; her history with the reverend and recent addition as beneficiary to his life insurance policy feels notable. Ismenia Mendes holds her own opposite Bill Sage. My favorite of the suspects though has to be self-nicknamed Duck, who is said to be so stupid he “could screw up boxed Mac and cheese.” Falahee comes across equal parts endearing, lovable, and oafish in the role.
By the time we get to Leo’s lengthy monologue reveal, Hayseed has already proven itself to be a clever and inspired ode to the mystery genre. The pieces slide into place in a satisfying manner that few major Hollywood productions are capable of handling. Smalltown vibes present a kind of coziness to the proceedings—even though the main subject involves a murdered reverend, the dark humor and hijinks still manage to carefully balance the tone. Hayseed titillates and surprises as a lovable gem overflowing with quirky characterization.
Did you know that hayseed isn’t just a seed of grass—it also represents a simple country bumpkin. Learn all this and more with Hayseed, comes to digital on November 21st.