One of the films that had its premier at the 2017 Atlanta Film Festival right here in the Hollywood of the South is the drama The Scent of Rain and Lightning based on a novel by Nancy Pickard. It is solid enjoyable fare with excellent characters and an intricate labyrinthine plot.
I love stories of fucked up dynastic families out west. They put the “fun” in “dysfunctional.” Blake Robbins brings us yet another tale of the far away mythical land of “out west” where cars are trucks, men are men, and sheep are nervous. For all its reliable archetypical characters this film does takes unique twists and turns that make it worth the ride.
“…smart, sharp, hard, well paced and well acted with a fresh approach to the genre.”
The Linder family comes complete with an authoritarian patriarch known only as Senior (I know, I know, I was looking for Sister Wives too: they aren’t here). At the outset Billy Coyle, the man convicted of killing Jody Linder’s parents, is being released from prison. Jody is a young capable woman who picks up the threads of her parents murder when some questions are raised about whether Billy is guilty or was sent down as a scapegoat. Being a reprehensible piece of shit, Billy is not missed. Few bitter tears were shed when he went away and nobody particularly gives a shit when he comes back either but it does mean the family feels unsafe with him walking around and in the course of circling up the wagons some skeletons shake loose for a little Danse Macabre.
The Sundance TV series Rectified comes to mind as this unfolds; there are some similarities in tone and plot. It also felt like watching Fargo season 2 again. That, by the way, is a sincere compliment and didn’t stop me from being engrossed in the characters and their sordid bullshit. The big reveal is indeed a novel twist. However, by the end it’s been telegraphed so emphatically that you will see something really “out there” that it would pretty much have to be aliens implanting mind control chips via anal incest to really knock you back in your seat. I also have an OCD itch annoyance over a spoilery rebellion against formula that doesn’t pay off as expected. It’s by design so I’ll live with that and see if my opinion changes over time. It might.
Still for all that snarky bitching let’s take nothing away from what the film is: smart, sharp, hard, well paced and well acted with a fresh approach to the genre. The drama plays out with steamy sex scenes and crisp dialog. The weather plays a visceral role and the moody cinematography bears this out. Dark deeds take place in shadows and lightning and that is beautifully done.
I enjoy Will Patton and though he does seem to play the same note in every character, he’s really damn good at that note and you know you can relax and let him have that scene.
In the tradition of films with people who are emotionally unavailable Monday morning but on a hair trigger of lust and rage the rest of the time this picture performs admirably. This time the family secrets are unwound through a strong female protagonist as one of several interesting ways it explores old territory with fresh eyes. There’s room for this story and more like it.
The Scent of Rain and Lightning (2017) Directed by Blake Robbins. Written By Nancy Pickard, Jeff Robison, Casey Twenter. Starring Maika Monroe, Justin Chatwin, Maggie Grace,Will Patton.
7 out of 10