An ambiguous relationship develops on the Appalachian Trail in Matthew Brown’s sophomore feature “Maine,” starring Laia Costa and Thomas Mann as a couple of hikers who connect for a while in the wilderness. Brown’s laconic film parcels out information sparingly as it drifts from moment to moment, observing the daily existence of Bluebird (Costa) and Lake (Mann). It’s a surprise to both the audience and their newfound hiking pals when she reveals they’re not a couple, just friends. They met on the trail and have hiked together since — because he needs to and she wants to. The catch? She’s married.
Cinematographer Donald R. Monroe’s camera luxuriates in the glorious landscape, which provides the backdrop for the vignettes that demonstrate the easy, silly intimacy between the two. Brown carefully traces the bell curves of conflict and climax that quietly creep into each scene. Bluebird and Lake joke as a way of not talking about the plaguing questions: What is their relationship? What happens when this is over?
Often, “Maine” feels a little aimless, wandering around ragged, uncharted emotional territory that baffles the wayward characters themselves. Costa is an earthy and intense performer, spontaneity nearly seeping out of her skin, while Mann is so subtle that it’s not until he’s out of the picture that you realize he was the centrifuge of this relationship. Without him, Bluebird spins off into the unknown. Where “Maine” ultimately goes is a little off the map, but the mysterious emotional journey is nevertheless fascinating.
Rated: R, for language, some sexual content and graphic nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday. Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD