If a film was to take a look back on someone’s childhood adventures, most of which took place in and around a beach front house, odds are that the film would be bubbling over in a bath of feel-good afterglow. Such is not the case with “Rain,” however. Set for no apparent reason in the 1970s, the film contrasts the lazy and idyllic summer days of thirteen year-old Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki) and her precocious kid brother Jim (Aaron Murphy) with the bored, listless and drink-filled ennui of their parents’ existence. While Janey hovers at the confusing cusp of adolescence, her mother Kate (Sarah Peirse) is passing out the other side of youth’s revolving door. Paying even less attention to her hapless husband Ed (Alistair Browning) than she does to her kids, Kate would rather spend the waning vestiges of her youthful sexuality on Cady (Marton Csokas), a boat captain, drifter, and hack photographer.
None of this is lost on Janey who, true to her age and fluctuating maturity, seems undecided whether to stave off the slow-motion disintegration of her family…or accelerate it by not-so-subtly engaging her mother in a competition for Cady’s affections. Nothing’s ever spoken as wife betrays husband, daughter betrays mother and everyone betrays father and brother. It all festers there just under the surface instead, as this functionally dysfunctional family drifts downstream to its own destruction.
Director Christine Jeffs’ treatment of Kirsty Gunn’s novel trudges through about eighty minutes of nearly unrelenting, painfully awkward tension, before packing its entire wallop into a truly harrowing and utterly depressing finale. While Browning’s Ed is a nearly forgotten cipher struggling to maintain his relevance to the family, and Peirse evokes both sympathy and revulsion in her pathetic and self-centered refusal to act her age, it’s the kids who provide most of what’s compelling about “Rain.” Fulford-Wierzbicki in particular turns in a performance well beyond her years as Janey. At times still a childlike tomboy, at other times exuding a scarily immoral sultriness, she shares the spotlight with cinematographer John Toon’s New Zealand seascapes.
“Rain,” to put it mildly, is not your typical warm and fuzzy nostalgia film. Instead, this grim and brooding tale of equally disturbing illicit liaisons is a gloomy and disturbing look at these liaisons’ equally disastrous results.