When news reaches Jody Linder (Maika Monroe) that her parents’ killer is being released it causes a domino effect. Long buried secrets and family feuds are uncovered, proving fouler things than dead bodies lurk beneath the surface in every town.
This is a spider’s web for the unravelling. Part murder mystery, part small town melodrama and equal portions brooding psychological thriller. Director Blake Robbins does a great job in cahoots with his cast and crew of completely throwing the audience. Combining soft focus close up shots, sobering character moments with richly black scenes of shadowy passion.
In essence a whodunit with an emotional scarred heroine as sleuth, instigator and interrogator Maika Monroe’s Jody helps tie this film together. Robbins employs flashbacks judiciously and manipulates timeframe to cover ground, adequately inform yet never deem to spoon feed his audience. Even at its most simplistic The Scent of Rain and Lightning requires the audience to pay attention. Character introductions are never straightforward, motives frustratingly vague while performances are uniformly excellent.
Adapted by Jeff Robison, Casey Twenter and original author Nancy Pickard this verges on film noir, as narrative is manipulated, plot threads interweave and flashbacks challenge our perspective. From the opening frame this is an extremely claustrophobia movie, despite its focus on family values, personal unity and a tremendous ensemble cast. Will Patton’s patriarch Senior is one stand out amongst many, in a film which could easily have been movie of the week material. However the consistently switching tone and mood communicated through camerawork and musical score raise The Scent of Rain and Lightning to a rarefied position.
Both in terms of dramatic approach and overall feel Robbins has given us something which reminded me of Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. Character driven, starkly unrelenting in its depiction of family dynamics and overbearing father figures. What starts as a simple case of individual safety for one person is calculatingly picked to pieces until an uncomfortable truth gets revealed. Revelling in ambiguity Robbins takes pleasure in showing the flaws that exist across the board within this small town clan. Infidelity, clandestine meetings and sordid liaisons separate these people from each other by a hair, yet they consider themselves above reproach.
What The Scent of Rain and Lightning proves to be is a modern-day thriller shrouded in shabby sheep’s clothing. Morally rigorous in its examination of the shades of grey which make up a person, yet reserved enough to leave room for conclusions. Perhaps the greatest compliment you could pay is that this film brings with it the humid, airless proximity of a summer storm. Cloying, sticky, humid and suffocating it promotes tension, permeates every pore and leaves you no closer to closure.