There are some movies that come at us with all the subtlety of a charging rhino. There are others that encourage us to lean in, listen closely, and absorb every detail. The Scent Of Rain And Lightning, a mystery-thriller based on a novel by Nancy Pickard, falls into the latter category – which is one reason why it’s such a must-see movie.
Told with intimate close-ups and a dreamlike blurring of the past and present, The Scent Of Rain And Lightning tells the story of Jody Linder (Maika Monroe), an Oklahoman 20-something whose psychological wounds are reopened when a lank-haired, loathsome character named Billy (Brad Carter) is suddenly released from prison. When Jody was still a child, her parents were both brutally murdered, and the finger of suspicion quickly fell on Billy. When Billy’s sentence is commuted, and still weighed down by her childhood memories, Jody begins to look into the facts behind her parents’ deaths – and gradually faces the possibility that, as drunken and violent as Billy is, he may not be the killer after all.
Directed by Blake Robbins and written by Jeff Robison and Casey Twenter, The Scent Of Rain And Lightning unfolds with an absorbing rhythm, each scene expanding on what we think we know about Jody’s past. Rather than signpost where the flashbacks begin and end, Robbins lets one scene elide seductively into the next, the plot drifting woozily from Jody as an adult to her childhood and the final hours of her mother, Laurie (Maggie Grace). Other members of Jody’s family appear to know more than they’re letting on; there’s Senior, her cattle rancher father played by veteran character actor Will Patton. Her grandmother (Bonnie Bedelia), and her uncle, Chase (Mark Webber). So what really happened that hot, stormy night?
Superbly acted, particularly by Monroe, who puts in another winning performance to go alongside her turns in such films as The Guest and It Follows, this is one of those movies where the tension rises so gradually and subtly that it’s barely perceptible at first. Yet by the final third, Scent builds to a satisfying climax that is studded with abrupt slivers of Cormac McCarthy-esque violence. On a compact budget, Robbins creates an effective southern noir atmosphere; there’s an alchemical quality to its editing, akin to Nicolas Roeg’s hypnotic use of cutting in such films as Walkabout or Don’t Look Now.
While some might be a little bewildered at first by the non-linear storytelling and the need to pay constant attention to even the briefest exchanges, the way the movie rewards that effort is what makes this such a rewarding indie thriller. Where so many movies can feel bloated and overloaded with extraneous detail, The Scent Of Rain And Lightning is the complete opposite: it’s as intricately constructed as a Swiss watch, with not a tiny cog or spring out of place.
The Scent Of Rain And Thunder doesn’t have a UK release date yet, but when we hear of one, we’ll keep you updated.