The Scent of Rain and Lightning is a tense and beautifully shot thriller that regretfully unravels in its third act.
Set in a small rural town, director Blake Robbins’ (The Sublime and Beautiful) adaptation of Nancy Pickard’s novel stars Maika Monroe (It Follows) as Jody, a young woman who is forced to confront past horrors and unearth family secrets after the man convicted of murdering her parents is released from prison. The story shifts between the present day and flashbacks of the events that led up to the tragedy, as Jody searches for answers.
Monroe’s performance is delicate, nuanced, and mature. She avoids the usual girl-detective clichés and instead offers an intriguing portrait of a wounded and angry woman who is determined to discover the truth of her parent’s deaths. The Scent of Rain and Lightning also features outstanding performances from Will Patton (Armageddon, Remember the Titans) as Jody’s grandfather; Justin Chatwin (No Stranger Than Love, Urge, TV’s Orphan Black and Weeds) as her deceased father; and Maggie Grace (The Taken series, TV’s Lost) as Laurie, Jody’s mother.
Besides a talented cast, there is a lot that Robbins’ gothic mystery gets right: the music is haunting to just the right degree and plays with silence in a way that builds tension without feeling obvious or contrived and, from the very first opening sequence of Billy (Brad Carter) as he is released from prison, the cinematography is nothing short of masterful. Every shot is moody, intimate, and perfectly executed. The atmosphere of dread and despair builds slowly – moment by moment, scene by scene, perfect shot after perfect shot.
Though the flashbacks are clumsy from the very start, it isn’t until the film’s climactic finish that The Scent of Rain and Lightning really begins to fall apart. Unfortunately, when it does, the let down is painful to behold. Perhaps it has something to do with its failure to balance the shifts through time, but The Scent of Rain and Lightning, despite a talented cast, never gives the audience the opportunity to connect with its core characters, besides Jody, in a meaningful way. Many of the events that happen in the flashbacks don’t happen from Jody’s perspective, and it isn’t clear if or how she comes to know about them in the present. It also means that the audience doesn’t get an opportunity to know or understand the actions of the other characters or comprehend the true events and motives surrounding her parent’s deaths.
For a film that does such a fabulous job building suspense and setting the tone, there is remarkably little in the way of satisfaction or resolution to be found in the denouement of this otherwise well-constructed thriller.
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