Directed by Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin
This newly discovered indie thriller, “La Barracuda”, stars Allison Tolman and Sophie Reid as two estranged half-sisters who get to know each other at an adult age while living under the same roof for a limited period of time. The story was an idea of Jason Cortlund, who co-directed with Julia Halperin, and this is their second feature, after the 2012 drama, “Now, Forager”.
The plot centers on two sisters who had never met until their father’s death. Besides being an alcoholic and drug addict, the singer Wayne Joseph Klein was also a liar and a cheater, at least according to his wife, Patricia (JoBeth Williams). Their daughter, Merle Klein (Tolman), lives comfortably in Austin, Texas, in the company of her helpful fiancé Raul (Luis Bordonada) and his son from a previous relationship. She maintains a steady job and now has a big inherited ranch under her supervision.
On a certain day, by the time she gets home, Merle almost becomes speechless when a British woman stationed at her door says to be her sister. Her name is Sinaloa (Reid) and she’s a singer/songwriter, just like their dad.
Reluctantly and due to Raul’s insistence, Merle invites her to stay. At first, the interaction between them seems arduous, but as the time passes, they become best friends. Meanwhile, Sinaloa borrows an old acoustic Gibson and finds some moments of glory when singing melancholic country/folk tunes at home, backed by local musicians who are also friends of the family, and at a local bar. Under different scenarios, she shows to be an honest, independent woman who resolutely exhibits a strong character. However, as the story moves forward, the cool, hippie-like attitude she first adopted gradually vanishes, unmasking a deranged personality that, until then, was concealed.
The episodes succeed one after another while these small changes in Sinaloa’s temperament occur in a very subtle way, forcing the viewers to remain in a state of alert and ambiguity. This can be either challenging or frustrating, and in my case, it was the latter option that won. The reason had much to do with the authors’ inability to build proper tension throughout. Instead, they envisioned pouring everything out, at once, in the final section.
The prolonged pre-climax, characterized by an unaltered pace and tone, took over a story whose main point of interest suddenly changed from Sinaloa, supposedly ‘designed’ to intrigue us (what was that pee in the garden?), to Merle and her emotional problems.
Even with all its weaknesses, the slow-burning “La Barracuda” evinced strong production values, which is laudable considering its low budget. In addition to the appealing cinematography by Jonathan Nastasi and some interesting focused-unfocused camera techniques, the film, which had Bruce Beresford (“Breaker Morant”, “Driving Miss Daisy”) as an executive producer, also reaps considerable benefit from the compelling performances by the pair of leading actors.
Looking and feeling like a true independent film, it was a shame that it felt so uneven and limited in thrills along the way.