This film was reviewed as first seen at this year’s AFI FEST presented by Audi.

It’s nearly impossible to think of a movie off-hand that is set in the Bahamas, even more difficult to think of one that’s a drama, but it’s almost assured that there has never been a film set in the Bahamas (or dare I say anywhere in the Caribbean) that is filmed entirely in black and white. And here we have our first entry in “Live Cargo.”

While the tropics are a lushly beautiful place with brightly colored postcard-worthy scenery, in this film we see the islands through the eyes of a young couple grieving a tragedy, and therefore, the palette is reduced to stark black and white. The complete removal of color perfectly sets the tone for the absence of life they’re experiencing and allows us to focus on the core messages instead of ogle at the scenery.

Indeed, one of the strengths of “Live Cargo” is that it allows the imagery to do most of the work rather than relying on dialogue. The setting feels like a dynamic world which people inhabit rather than just a pretty backdrop. It also helps that the protagonist couple, Nadine and Lewis (Dree Hemingway and Keith Stanfield), are visitors to the island and find themselves side characters in a plot revolving around a power struggle between rival patriarchs of the island. Rather than 90 minutes of a couple grieving alone, we experience them within the fabric of numerous other compelling characters, each of whom plays a pivotal role.

“Live Cargo” is an unforgettable debut and a promise of greater heights to come.

At times the emphasis on the mood and setting cause the plot to feel like it’s on the backburner, and yet the imagery is so strong that I vividly remember entire moments from the film even after a week of film-hopping at AFI. Nothing feels inauthentic to the characters or location and, for the most part, the plot devices fall naturally into order rather than being forced for sake of melodrama.

This is the first feature for both director Logan Sandler and DP Daniella Nowitz, and they’ve both cast their mark in capturing mood and setting. “Live Cargo” is an unforgettable debut and a promise of greater heights to come.

‘Live Cargo’ is not rated. 88 minutes. Opening at the Arena Cinelounge Hollywood on Friday, 4/7.