Smalltown desperation finds release through illicit sex, petty politics and huffing. Everyone’s fucking someone they shouldn’t be or reaching for a brass ring they don’t deserve. It’s Iowa, the heartland, and deep inside the chest cavity all is black. Innocence has been lost, just peel back the layers and you’ll see the decay.
It’s also something you’ve seen a million times before, the simple stories of corruption and degradation which afflict everyone. David Lynch made a career out of exposing the darkness underneath the surface through decadence and nightmares and since his breakthrough Blue Velvet a million imitators have wallowed in his footsteps, unable to touch his singular vision. In a way Katherine Lindberg succeeds but only by accident– here she paints a beautiful portrait bereft of soul, a shallow effort of vanity masquerading as profound art. The abuse of American Gothic continues to be a legitimate exercise for budding filmmakers.
The movie opens with a midnight tryst in a parked car surrounded by fields. The man returns home with tired excuses and his wife, Ellen (Melora Walters), greets these with a rifle. The woman, Patsy (Jo Anderson), is meanwhile confronted by her step-son, Richard (Kris Park), and returns home to her cold and calculating husband, the sheriff, Tom (Jamey Sheridan). While Ellen gibbers and frets over the death of her marriage we watch the family dynamics across town unravel in brisk and predictable fashion: Tom has designs on becoming mayor and doesn’t care that his wife has a habit of disappearing at night so long as it doesn’t ruin his chances; their kids run rampant around the house with toy pistols; Richard needs to get a job if he isn’t going to school. To spice things up we have Tom secretly meeting Ellen’s mother (Diane Ladd) and Richard sneaking off to be obsessed with Ellen who still hasn’t been able to shake off her shellshocked deer spell. The fact that the body of her husband’s in the trunk doesn’t seem to phase him at all. Periodically a train passes through for a moody transitional shot. All of this builds to a plot twist that isn’t shocking, it’s just stupid. However, it was inevitable– the conventions of this insipid thriller made it inevitable.
Acting is hard to judge as I assume everyone was under pressure from Lindberg to perform a certain way. Melora Walters spends the entire movie struggling with dialogue and motion as though she’s being victimized by Parkinson’s; Kris Park staggers through the fields and through town in a dreamer’s daze; Jamey Sheridan is so single-minded he can’t even convincingly portray a status-hungry politician. This leaves Jo Anderson and Diane Ladd to pick up the slack as secondary characters and they do all right, being bitchy and nosey effectively.
The film looks amazing making terrific use of Iowa’s cornfields and dying heartland towns. The color saturation for certain scenes is another Lynch trick but when Lindberg lets up on her adopted style the scenery manages to speak for itself in a more subtle and more effective manner. Unfortunately it’s also something of a one trick pony and, without a story to back it up, the long, drifting takes of nowhere lulls you to sleep. Another stolen stylistic expression was the use of ambient sound and sparse application of score, all designed to provoke tension and ill-ease. If it wasn’t so blatant and irritatingly second-hand it might have helped, but I don’t think anything could have saved this movie except anyone other than Katherine Lindberg writing and directing.
Rain is available on DVD.