Clementine (2019) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Two women in a lake house

“Clementine” is a slow and opaque psychological drama mainly revolving around two different female characters who happen to get involved with each other by coincidence. Putting them together in a remote spot during most of its running time, the movie phlegmatically but fascinatingly observes the growing emotional tension between them, and it is rather a shame that the movie only comes to scratch the surface in the end after constantly toying with what may happen between them.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Karen (Otmara Marrero), an adult woman who has recently broken up with her older lesbian lover who is simply called “D” (Sonya Walger) in the film. Although the movie is adamantly vague about how she and D came to end their relationship, it is apparent that Karen has not overcome the aftermath of their breakup, and she is now occupied with getting back her pet dog from D, but she cannot enter D’s house now as D has already changed the lock of the front door of the house.

Quite frustrated with this matter, Karen decides to go to a lake house belonging to D instead, which is located at a remote spot of some rural forest area. Not so surprisingly, D has also changed the lock of the front door of her house, but Karen eventually manages to go inside the house, and the empty silence of the house reminds her again of how much she feels barren and isolated due to her breakup with D.

And then there comes an unexpected encounter. As she walks around the house a bit, Karen comes across an adolescent girl who simply seems to be spending her free time on the lake, and then she meets her again not long after that. The girl’s name is Lana (Sydney Sweeney), and she says she has been looking for her pet dog. Although Karen does not believe Lana’s words much, she decides to help this girl finding the dog because she sympathizes with Lana as a fellow dog owner, and they soon look for the dog together for a while.

Anyway, Lana’s words turn out to be true, and Karen subsequently takes Lana and her dog to where Lana is supposed to live. On the next day, Lana comes to the lake again, and, as she and Karen spend more time together around the house and the lake, something mutual seems to be developed between them. While Karen cannot help but attracted to Lana’s youth and beauty, Lana looks rather oblivious to that as casually talking about her aspiration of being a Hollywood actress, but then it is gradually revealed that she is quite interested in Karen, who is older than her indeed but may lead her to something new and exciting for her.

In the meantime, the situation becomes a bit complicated due to the expected interference from D, who already knows Karen is in her lake house and accordingly has a young local handyman named Beau (Will Brittain) hang around her and Lana just in case. It looks like Beau has some interest in Lana, and Lana lets him flirt a bit with her, but she still seems to be more drawn to Karen than this hunky dude.

Although this generates some tension among these three main characters as they come to spend some time together around the lake house, the movie continues to maintain the ambiguous psychological situation among them. While he later becomes not so pleased about how Lana is flirting with him, Beau mostly does not cross the boundary. While she becomes more willing to cross the line between her and Karen, Lana simply looks like enjoying tiptoeing on the line. While she clearly desires for carnal intimacy, Karen keeps hesitating because, well, her mind is still coping with her messy status after the breakup with D.

During its last act, the screenplay by director/writer Lara Gallaher takes a left turn, and that is where the movie begins to stumble as trying to accumulate some dramatic tension. While a key private scene between Karen and Lana is thoughtfully and sensitively handled, what follows next is clumsily executed in contrast, and you will probably not be surprised by what is inevitably revealed around the ending of the film.

Anyway, Gallaher and her cast and crew members did their best to hold our attention at least during the first hour of the film. While cinematographer Andres Karu did a commendable job of establishing the palpable sense of isolation around the main characters in the movie, the unconventional score by Katy Jarzebowski often makes us nervous and uneasy, and it is particularly effective when the main characters in the film happen to wander aimlessly around in the forest. Ably complementing each other from the beginning to the end, Otmara Marrero and Sydney Sweeney are particularly convincing when their characters seem to show more of themselves to each other later in the story, and Will Brittain and Sonya Walger are also effective in their small but substantial roles.

In conclusion, “Clementine” holds its cards behind its back a little too much, and I must confess that I often myself becoming impatient and frustrated during viewing, though it is evident that Gallaher, who makes a feature film debut here after making several short film, is a competent filmmaker who knows how to handle mood and performance. I wish she added more flesh and bone to her story and characters, but the overall result shows considerable potential at least, and I am certainly interested in watching what will come next from her during next several years.

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