The lake house setting is ideal fodder for American independent filmmakers. It is a shortcut to gorgeous visuals and presents a good excuse for a limited cast to be isolated together. The backdrop harks back to the tradition of celebrated art flicks with similar surroundings from the work of Eric Rohmer to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, and not to mention the entire Mumblecore movement. Lara Gallagher’s first feature, Clementine, premiered at TIFF in 2019, but in a similar refrain for new movies, is only now making it to release due to the Covid pandemic.
Up in the tranquil Pacific Northwest, Karen (Otmara Marrero) hides out after a bad breakup. Though highways cut through forests, there is something mystical about the landscape as Gallagher shoots it. She breaks into her ex’s large modernist house: all angles and oak-hued light. Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney soon appears as Lana. She seems like an adult, but her age constantly comes into question. The mysterious arrival has lost her dog and asks the protagonist for help to find it. The sexual tension between the pair is palpable, and soon the former – who seems to be playing her own game – is staying at the house.
Karen’s torment over her breakup and attraction to the sexually curious Lana is presented through close-ups, lingering looks in the mirror and moody play with shadow and light. Their minor utopia is disrupted by the arrival of Beau (Will Britten), a hulking jock who presents a challenge to the lead for the affections of the ambiguous dog owner.
Close-ups of nail polish and socks pulled from feet suggest a sizzling underbelly to this movie. But Clementine never quite goes far enough. Viewers wait for it to descend into more lurid uses of sex or violence to get its point across, but it always remains restrained. Persona is evoked in a soliloquy when Lana recounts a casting couch situation. The acting is strong, the tone is woozy, but Gallagher doesn’t quite express a point of view that synthesises the feature’s duelling ideas about performance and desire. The landscape is hiding something real and dangerous.
Clementine is released digitally on demand on 8th February 2021.
Watch the trailer for Clementine here: