"Rain" is a sensual, moody coming-of-age drama of wide implications and stunning impact that marks an important feature debut for New Zealand writer-director Christine Jeffs. In bringing to the screen Kirsty Gunn's highly acclaimed 1994 novel, Jeffs has created a breathtakingly assured and stylish work of spare dialogue and acute expressiveness. Jeffs has that paradoxical gift of maintaining complete and crucial control of every aspect of her film while allowing it to seem spontaneous. No wonder Jeffs, one of New Zealand's top directors of commercials, has made Variety's "Ten Directors to Watch" list.
Right on the beach of what looks to be paradise on Earth, a couple with two children have rented a comfortable vacation cottage in the summer of 1972. Kate (Sarah Peirse) has the mature beauty of a Greek goddess, and her husband, Ed (Alistair Browning), is a pleasant-looking fellow. Their 13-year-old daughter Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki), who has her mother's dark hair, is blossoming into a knockout. Janey's kid brother, Jim (Aaron Murphy), a redhead like his dad, is about 8. It's swiftly clear, however, that Kate and Ed's marriage is in trouble. Kate, whose natural looks and easy poise convey a sultry allure, continually rebuffs her sweet-natured husband's displays of affection. She increasingly drowns her sexual hunger in drink, just as her husband does the same with his feelings of rejection. They have chosen the worst place possible to rekindle their love, although Kate is moving past caring. That's because there's nothing much to do, and there are drunken parties with neighbors every night.
Kate and Ed are, however, loving parents. An affectionate, caring man, Ed makes an effort to spend time with the children and to take them along when he goes fishing. Just as Kate tries to reach out to Janey, a stranger emerges on the horizon.
Having anchored his cabin cruiser nearby, Cady (Marton Csokas), a noted photographer, has struck up an acquaintance with the family. His strong sexual appeal has not been lost on either a mother craving passion or a daughter who is just beginning to discover her own allure.
Beneath a surface as calm as the sea in front of the cottage, tension begins to build, but "Rain" moves way past the predictable into the shocking. Indeed, the film is so expertly structured and paced that its denouement knocks you off your feet. So intense is it that it seems downright punitive on the part of Gunn and Jeffs, yet it is undeniably organic to the plot and grows out of the psychology of the well-defined, flawlessly played characters. Even little Murphy gives as nuanced a portrayal as the others and may well prove to be the big discovery among the cast.
Unrated. Times guidelines: strong sensuality, some nudity, heavy drinking, adult themes, extremely intense.
A Fireworks Pictures presentation. Writer-director Christine Jeffs. Based on the novel by Kirsty Gunn. Producer Philippa Campbell. Executive producer Robin Schloss. Cinematographer John Toon. Editor Paul Maxwell. Music Neil Finn and Edmund McWilliams. Costume designer Kirsty Cameron. Art director Kirsty Clayton. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.
At selected theaters.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times