What's that smell? Don't panic, and please, put that air freshener away, would you? It's just director Blake Robbins' THE SCENT OF RAIN & LIGHTING - a new drama/mystery film with the strong aesthetic aroma of a western. But is it dramatic and mysterious (and western) enough to grab us by the nostrils and take us for a ride? Strap on your smell-o-vision, and let's take a deep whiff to find out.
Based on Nancy Pickard's novel of the same name, THE SCENT OF RAIN & LIGHTING follows Jody (Maika Monroe) as she deals with the release of the man who murdered her parents. Although he was convicted in what seemed like a fair trial, it soon becomes clear that what happened in the past is more complicated than Jody originally thought.
Let's get the good stuff out of the way. The performances are perfectly fine. Everyone in the cast takes what they can from the material to make their individual scenes work. There's nothing bad that can be said about the actors. They do their best with what they're given and it's nice to see Maika Monroe in another film after IT FOLLOWS.
What they're given, however, are mostly quiet scenes where dour-faced characters painfully process their internalized anguish. When it's externalized, it's very dramatic - almost melodramatic - and that's because the script bears no levity. This is not a fun movie. If you're looking for a rollicking good time, you should go rollick somewhere else.
We never really get to know the characters outside of their solemn misery. There's nothing to contrast the depressing nature of the story as Jody goes about her investigation. And beyond that, we never actually get to know the characters. This is a character study that holds its characters at arm's length - we see them doing this, but we don't see who they are. It's all very superficial, and I'm guessing the novel does a better job of fleshing them out, but from what I've seen here, I'm not interested. About half-way through, I realized I didn't know anyone's names, and didn't care to.
The narrative is hung on a shaky framework of temporal distortion; it sets up Maika Monroe to investigate what happened, then dumps us in frequent extended flashbacks that remove any agency her character may have had otherwise. We're not given clear indication how far back we're traveling, and the production design doesn't make enough distinction between the two time periods. People who should have aged more significantly look exactly the same. However, in one confusing case, a character has grown a large beard which makes you squint and question, "Is that the same guy?"
Multiple scenes early in the film feel extraneous, not adding anything of value to the overall tapestry - unless you're a masochist and count frustration and impatience as valuable. The place is languid, to say the least. Things pick up marginally in the last twenty minutes, but it's a long, arduous journey to make it there, and when the story reaches its ultimate end, I guarantee you'll be unsatisfied.
This is the kind of flick you forget almost immediately after you watch it. Although, you might catch it filling the midday movie block in a few years time and ask yourself, have I seen this before? I swear I've seen this before. I guess my memory's going! What were we talking about again? Oh yeah, the movie. Unfortunately it turns out that THE SCENT OF RAIN & LIGHTNING is a wee bit stale, and you might have to air out the room once you're done with it.