Steeped in a sleepy Texas milieu of lonely, desperate lives, the Austin-set thriller “Two Step” approaches tension a lot like the region’s barbecue, with enough methodical, indirect heat to make for plenty of flavor when it’s time to bite.
Writer-director Alex R. Johnson’s notion is to be charmingly patient introducing his unsettled characters before turning the screws. College dropout James (Skyy Moore) is a parentless nomad dealing with the death of his last living family member, his grandmother. He’s befriended by Gram’s wryly funny and sweet dance teacher neighbor, Dot (a terrific Beth Broderick). Enter Webb (James Landry Hébert), a hair-trigger-violent ex-con whose grift is scamming the elderly, including James’ grandma.
What’s refreshing about “Two Step” is that Johnson lulls you with attention to performance and tangy dialogue to make the eruptions of violence all the more destabilizing. You’re shocked even though Hébert’s Webb — a searing, wraithlike study in attention-deficit brutality — is the only terror source in this churn.
Giving flair to the inevitable and imbuing those stakes with emotional heft are key to this type of patiently nasty, slow-boil noir. That Johnson understands this makes his feature debut a particularly confident and enjoyable one.
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood