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By Andrew Stover | July 7, 2023

Directed and written by Jacob Vaus, Scuba is a coming-of-age drama centered on the blossoming romance between two lonely teenagers. There’s Don (Johnathan Middleton), who aspires to be a playwright, and Becca (Stephanie Reedy), who wishes to be an actor. But amid the romantic proceedings, Vaus explores the effects of blame, grief, self-interest, and appropriation with brutal honesty.

The filmmaker sets an ominous tone from the start of Scuba, with a collection of shots around and in an inground pool that’s been unused for quite some time. A static underwater shot of a toy boat sinking to the bottom implies peril, perhaps indicative of an emotional weight imposed on the characters, who viewers soon learn are stifled by isolation and insecurity. Don sits alone, keeps to himself, and habitually cleans the school hallways. Becca strives tirelessly for the lead role in the school’s theater program.

One day while tidying up the school, Don sees Becca audition for the school play and, for a fleeting moment, cannot take his eyes off her. Don’s home life is intriguingly calm and quiet. His mother (Rahkiah Brown) seems just as lonely as he is but desperate to converse, though through unusual means. Cut to Becca, who’s telling her family about her audition. They don’t say a word, scattered across the room in different chairs. Her mom proceeds to read a magazine, and the turning of every page fills the awkward silence. Becca feels disconnected from her family, and you feel for her because the tension is so cleverly crafted.

“…Becca and Don come together to produce their own play…”

After school, Don sees Becca again and gathers the courage to talk to her. The two agree to walk home together and find that they have an instant connection. The camera reflects their burgeoning attraction with shots that linger on their reactions and closeness. At a trampoline park, Don and Becca talk about the parts of themselves they don’t like, but they begin a relationship nonetheless.

While the romance lends itself to moments of sweetness, Scuba is a somber and emotionally intricate coming-of-age story that takes risks. Becca hopes to make her family proud by succeeding as an actor. So, when she is denied the lead role, Becca and Don come together to produce their own play, which brings about some lighter moments. Her ex-boyfriend (Brock Kruckemeyer) is reintroduced and serves as a catalyst for later events. But when compared to Don and Becca, he’s not as fully formed as a character.

Becca wants to be seen and appreciated, and that compulsion leads her to say and do repulsive things. But she’s also a teen who feels like her family doesn’t love her, and that can’t be good for anyone’s self-esteem. Whereas Don suffers emotional scars from a past accident, and not being able to talk about it isolates him. In an impressively subdued performance and through discreet acts of rage, grief, and self-loathing, Middleton generates empathy, although Don is not beyond saying hurtful things. During a climactic scene in a garage, the actors are thrilling, no longer swapping adoring smiles as Don lays into Becca with palpable intensity. The director expertly calculates every tonal shift and gives the talented young performers more than enough material to make their characters stand out.

In Scuba, Vaus avoids synthetic sentimentality and shows considerable skill in developing characters. All the while, he makes sure that every highly emotional scene has enough build-up to hit a nerve. This is a distressing yet wholly captivating look at the lives of two teenagers and will surely leave a lasting impression.

Scuba (2023)

Directed and Written: Jacob Vaus

Starring: Johnathan Middleton, Stephanie Reedy, Rahkiah Brown, Russ T. Nailz, Ella Crane, Isabella Tagliati, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Scuba Image

"…distressing yet wholly captivating..."

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