Low Tide (2019)
★★ / ★★★★
“Low Tide,” debut film of writer-director Kevin McMullin, brings to mind coming-of-age pictures from the ‘80s, especially in how it captures the look and feel of living in a seaside vacation spot, but it lacks the necessary human depth for it to be truly compelling and memorable. This is particularly strange because the lead actors, Jaeden Martell and Keean Johnson who play brothers, Peter and Alan, left to fend for themselves while their father is away for work, possess the ability to deliver convincing dramatic performances. The screenplay is not written deeply enough in order for these actors to be able to create subjects worthy of further exploration.
It begins as a story of three seemingly close friends (Johnson, Daniel Zolghadri, Alex Neustaedter) who break into people’s vacation homes to steal drugs, booze, and various items they could sell for petty cash. We watch them hang out at the boardwalk, scout for girls, get high, and pick fights with Bennys—a nickname they give to summer tourists. Meanwhile, a local cop, Sergeant Kent (Shea Whigham), suspects them as the ones responsible for the recent break-ins. He did not have a single evidence… until one of the teenagers ends up leaving a shoe at a crime scene. The boys’ relationship is tested and at one point we are meant to.wonder whether what they shared was friendship at all. Perhaps it simply a case of birds of a feather.
The plot also involves finding a dead man’s gold coins, but I think this is less interesting than the relationship between two brothers who look, sound, and act so differently when placed side-by-side, it takes a bit of persuasion to buy into the fact they are related at all. These highly valued coins is but a conduit to Peter and Alan coming together and admitting to one another that they are tired of being poor. And so their most recent asset must be protected at all cost. It is disappointing then that the writing fails to establish their desperation—how much each of them is willing to sacrifice—out of fear that one or both may come across as too unlikable.
There is sweet subplot involving Alan and an out-of-towner named Mary (Kristine Froseth). Although the cuteness of their chance meeting and going out on dates does not quite fit the overall foreboding feeling of the picture, I still found some enjoyment in these detours. I would have preferred for their conversations to have run longer since Alan is not a character who makes it a habit to talk about his personal life and the future with his so-called friends. It helps that Johnson and Froseth exhibit effortless chemistry when sharing a frame.
The picture may be low on thrills, but it is not short on consequences. It is not a clear-cut case of bad guys being punished and good guys prevailing. We get the impression that the brothers have learned something about themselves, about each other, and the world around them—expected from a coming-of-age film. Although the work left me wanting more depth, I am optimistic that McMullin can deliver stronger, more urgent content in future projects.