‘Blue Bayou’ Tells a Tender and Painful Tale of Deportation Limbo

1 Comment

Blue Bayou (CREDIT: Focus Features)

Starring: Justin Chon, Alicia Vikander, Mark O’Brien, Linh Dan Pham, Sydney Kowalske, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Emory Cohen

Director: Justin Chon

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: R for Adult Language and Up-Close Violence

Release Date: September 17, 2021 (Theaters)

Blue Bayou should spur many people to a very specific action: if you were born outside the United States and adopted by an American family, check your citizenship status as soon as you can! I doubt that you’re in as much danger as tattoo artist Atonio LeBlanc (Justin Chon, also the writer and director), but that’s not a risk worth taking.

As a message delivery system, Blue Bayou is clear and effective. But how does it work as an experience to be viewed and digested for a couple of hours? Well, that’s what I’m here to write about, isn’t it? I can tell you this for sure: Chon is a compelling screen presence. He’s been doing his thing on movies and TV for about a decade and a half, but I’m pretty sure this is my first time encountering him (save for a guest spot on an episode of New Girl, apparently). And it’s not hard to care about Antonio’s predicament, considering how blatantly unfair it is. He was adopted from Korea when he was three years old, making Louisiana very much the only home he’s ever known. But because of a quirk in American law, he’s not actually a citizen, and that combined with his criminal record suddenly makes him a target for deportation, thereby threatening to tear him apart from his pregnant wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and beloved stepdaughter Jesse (Sydney Kowalske).

A lot of Blue Bayou is powerfully painful, as Antonio is tortured not just by a racist bureaucracy, but also by the scars of his abusive foster childhood. Then there are also the other everyday stressors like a mother-in-law who thinks he’s too much of a burden for her daughter, as well as Sydney’s police officer dad Ace (Mark O’Brien), who’s trying to sneak his way back into the picture against everyone’s wishes. And on top of all that is Ace’s violently unpredictable partner Denny (Emory Cohen), who may just be the biggest threat of all.

Amidst all the instability (and humidity), some moments of the random beauty of everyday life manage to shine through. That’s certainly clear in Antonio’s tender relationship with Jesse, which is filled with motorcycle rides and traversing swampland. But what ultimately sets Blue Bayou apart as something truly unique are Antonio’s encounters with Parker (Linh Dan Pham), a woman dying of cancer who becomes an unlikely customer and confidant. She comes from a family of Vietnam War refugees, and she has plenty to teach Antonio about accepting his fate by virtue of simply being her openhearted self. To sum it all up, there’s a lot of empathy being generated by this movie, and that makes for a fulfilling viewing experience.

Blue Bayou is Recommended If You Like: The personal meeting the political

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Tattoos

How Does Rebecca Hall Handle the Confounding Scares of ‘The Night House’? Let’s Find Out

1 Comment

The Night House (CREDIT: Searchlight Pictures)

Starring: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Evan Jonigkeit, Vondie Curtis Hall, Stacy Martin

Director: David Bruckner

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: R for Creepy Sequences and Salty Language

Release Date: August 20, 2021 (Theaters)

Can we ever really know the people closest to us as well as we think we do? Not when there’s a demonic possession lurking around your home! (Which is what I think The Night House is saying.) Rebecca Hall plays Beth, a high school teacher who lives on her own in a lake house now that her seemingly well-adjusted husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) has killed himself. And honestly? That’s some spot-on casting. Hall excels at doing her damnedest to remain mentally put-together while suddenly becoming beset by all-consuming skepticism. We can believe that she will never give up on the search for the truth but also that she is too flummoxed to ever see it clearly. It’s a purposely erratic approach that might be too maddening for some audiences, but for my money, Hall holds it all together sufficiently, and director David Bruckner has plenty to offer in the creeps department.

For most of its running time, The Night House appears to be hurtling headlong towards a clear explanation for all the strange goings-on. Why does Owen shoot himself in the head? What’s the meaning of the enigmatic note he left behind? When Beth is dreaming, what’s the deal with the alternate dimension she seems to be entering and its attendant mirror image house? And what about that mysterious woman (or women?) Owen was surreptitiously hanging out with who looks just like Beth? Is this some sort of Vertigo situation? The best I can figure is that Owen has fallen prey to some sort of evil supernatural entity that is now threatening Beth’s life. But I’m not entirely sure if that’s correct. That vagueness can be frustrating for some, but I appreciate it to a certain extent, because it means that this is nowhere near your standard devil-made-me-do-it story.

The easiest metaphorical read is that Beth is a victim of all-consuming depression, but her situation resists easy interpretation. She offhandedly mentions past mental health struggles without going into too much detail, and while she seems distressed now, she doesn’t come off as particularly depressed. More like obsessed, which is certainly understandable in light of her husband’s suicide. Ultimately, The Night House is writing its own new language of psychological anguish, in which Beth’s waking hours lose all their stability, while her subconscious is beset by a creatively disruptive force. It ends exactly where it needs to without having to definitively clear up the mystery.

The Night House is Recommended If You Like: Vertigo, Insidious, possibly The One I Love? (I haven’t seen it, but the premise seems to have some similarities)

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Nightmares