Clair (Rachel Miner) is a mess. She’s just struggled through a divorce settlement, her father just died, and her anxiety threatens to send her into one, continuous downward spiral of panic attacks. She’s willing to drift from moment to moment, never moving forward and never improving, just existing. Then, her well-meaning but openly aggressive roommate and friend, Isolda (Shamika Cotton), researches some details about Clair’s murky childhood past and drags Clair on a road trip from New York to Maine.
What happens in Maine is a slick yet choppy mixture of New England paranoia that would make the likes of Stephen King’s Haven and the novels of John Connolly proud. Clair and Isolda fall in with a diverse crew of passionate yet cowardly New Englanders (including Chris Sarandon and John Cheeseman), settling in at the home of Clair’s estranged family, headed by Alice (Wendy Vanden Heuven). But the two out-of-towners also run afoul of the Gast family (led by a realistically creepy William Sadler), who hold the town in the grip of their corrupt, racist, violent claws.
And then there’s the mystery surrounding Clair’s mother’s death in a fire so many years ago.
No one seems too concerned with the truth. As Alice says, “People don’t talk about their problems, they’re too busy living them.” Director Brad Coley’s script takes us on a murky thrill ride that is part-murder mystery and part-emotional exploration of the mercurial emotions and experiences that makes us all human.
How much of Clair’s current situation, her depression, anxiety, and grief, are overlapping emotions left over from her previous tragedy as a child? How much of her missing personal memories are responsible for the way she operates in the present, in free fall? How much of who Clair is will remain unresolved until she deals with her own past?
Those are the kinds of questions Coley is willing to explore, even while he entertains the heck out of us with this indie tale. Sure, the way that crime and punishment play themselves out in the community, rather than through the justice system, is reasonably intriguing, but there’s also the underlying spiritual notion that something of the past is hoping to invade the present and make things right. For instance, after Clair nearly dies running from her fears in the forest, she recounts the moment to a group of mostly incredulous family members:
It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe, like this sensation or presence like a physical touch.—Clair
Like hands? — Frank
Yes, like two hands holding me.— Clair
Clair’s former friend/brother gets it, because he knows something is missing, too. The two of them stick together, to unveil the mystery, and to sort out their lives. But they’re connected by an underlying sense that the world isn’t right, that something ‘Other’ wants to make it right again, and that they are called (insistently) to do something about it.
Really, to right centuries of wrong and hurt, it just takes a few moments of courage. And that’s beautiful.
I’d be remiss to point out that it’s the last film of Ellen Albertini Dow, who stole scenes in various films of the last several decades (Wedding Singer, Wedding Crashers) and died at the ripe, old age of 101.