Entertainment » Movies


by Derek Deskins
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Oct 6, 2017

Audiences tend to love when a thriller leaves them guessing. You sit there trying to put the puzzle together before the directors give you the chance to see the full picture. That's why you so often hear people excitedly say things like, "There were so many twists and turns" or, "You will not see it coming."

But that only works when the audience is invested and the reveals feel earned. To present a shock with little consequence or that reads as inauthentic to the remainder of the film does little more than alienate the viewer. In the case of "Barracuda" it loves the idea of a thriller, but never manages to become one that can be called successful.

Merle lives a comfortable if unexceptional life. She has a courteous fiancé, a cozy house, and a job. She has issues with her mother and her job causes more aggravation than the paycheck accounts for, but for all intents and purposes, Merle is doing just fine. Then a mysterious drifter arrives at her doorstep with claims of sisterhood to upend Merle's quiet life.

One thing that needs to be addressed before we get into the meat of the film is that "Barracuda" is set in Austin, and at least to the filmmakers, that is a big deal. This isn't one of those flicks where the location doesn't really matter all that much, where Canada is easily substituted for a non-descript American location. "Barracuda" is front-to-back Austin, or so directors Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin would like you to believe.

In actuality, this being in Austin doesn't have all that much to do with anything. Sure, in Austin you have the reigning "live music capital," and I suppose that is important to Sinaloa. And yes, you get proximity to natural elements and city living when you set the film in Austin. But for all of the effort that the filmmakers go to make it clear to the viewer that this is Austin, it never actually pays off. Setting the film in Austin doesn't add anything, particularly, and Cortlund and Halperin's insistence on reminding us makes Richard Linklater look subtle in his use of the city.

It may seem arbitrary to call issue with the overt setting of the film, but it speaks to the larger issue that Cortlund and Halperin have with the film: Lack of focus. There is no apparent purpose to the whole of "Barracuda." Merle is slightly unhappy and static; Sinaloa is manic and mysterious. But so what? These elements never come together to create anything worthwhile.

Similarly, are the musical interludes that are essentially live performance segments. Music appears to be important to the nature of "Barracuda," but these segments don't move the needle on anything in the film. Instead they feel like a celebration of the older Austin music scene, which is nice, if somewhat inconsequential to the overall story being told here.

This lack of structure and purpose are made all the more frustrating as "Barracuda" features a handful of things that are certainly deserving of praise. The cast delivers authentic and nuanced performances, particularly Allison Tolman. Where the script leaves the character of Merle a shell, Tolman picks up the slack in her subtle and often heartbreaking performance. Sophia Reid's Sinaloa is a bit tougher to pin down, although she shows herself to be a wonderful musician with a fire inside that makes her seem much larger than her small stature. And while I have faulted the filmmakers for their insistence on Austin being important to the story, cinematographer Jonathan Nastasi makes a strong aesthetic case for the setting. Nastasi is able to make a cityscape and a field at sunset evoke the same gentle beauty that at least makes for a wonderful visual experience.

After I finished watching "Barracuda," I was left questioning what exactly the film was, anyway. Is it a family drama? Maybe an ode to the country roots of Austin? Or is it a violent thriller? In some ways, "Barracuda" is all of these things, but then very much it is none of these. A film can certainly inhabit multiple areas and be a special concoction of tropes that coalesce into something new and interesting. But with "Barracuda" all of these elements exist independently of one another, never meeting up to add to anything greater.

While directors Cortlund and Halperin have landed a fantastic cast and put forth delightful visuals, the spine of the story is a mess that the film is never able to recover from. "Barracuda" is ultimately the type of film that is seen by those at a film festival and few others, because it's hard to find a good reason to recommend others to search it out.


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