Low Tide (Kevin McMullin, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
A24 is perhaps best known for distributing atmospheric horror releases such as The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015), Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018), and Midsommar (Aster, 2019), Oscar-nominees and winners such as Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017) and Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) and also responsible for the release of several unique, artsy indie flicks. However, the studio’s latest release (in a collaboration with DirecTV) doesn’t seem to fit into any of those categories. Enter Low Tide, a hidden-treasure crime drama film harkening back to the likes of The Goonies with a modern day, Stranger Things-esquetone.
In writer-director Kevin McMullin’s feature directorial debut, four high-school friends spend their summer on the New Jersey coast pillaging beachside houses to fund their summer fun. The four friends couldn’t be more different, though. Alan (Keean Johnson) is an outgoing, attractive, muscular 16-year-old who is a genuinely decent person but makes questionable decisions. Meanwhile, his brother Peter (It and It: Chapter Two’s Jaeden Martell) is a scrawny, shy and reserved 13-year-old who doesn’t really fit in, and appears to be the most innocent out of the group. The exact opposite, Red (Alex Neustaedter), is a fiery loose cannon with a short fuse, intimidating with his tall stature and greaser-style long hair, and always carrying around a knife or a gun. Finally, there’s Smitty, a small, slightly awkward teenager who is devious and sucks up to Red, but is truly loyal to no one. The four appear to be great friends despite their differences and are enjoying their summer on the beach with their loot. Then, one night when all four are robbing a beachside house, Alan and Peter discover a bag of gold. Before they can decide what to do with it, they get caught by the police. However, only Alan is arrested as the others flee. The police let him go with only a possible trespassing charge in the works. However, the friends start to fall apart as accusations of snitching and secrecy brew, and curiosity about the bag of gold starts to spread. Soon, they turn against each other, no one knowing whom to trust.
The cinematography and editing are very well suited to help create a nostalgic style for the film, reminiscent of so many other coming-of-age tales like this one. The real shining aspect of the film, however, is the chemistry between the characters and the individual performances themselves. The writing really shines with each character clearly fleshed out and defined. The actors each bring a different energy and persona that really help distinguish themselves without ever being over the top. At first, it seems like they are all similar and out to accomplish the same goal, but as the film goes on, we get to see how each character acts when presented with different situations and come to realize that these individuals really couldn’t be more different. One thing that I would’ve liked to see more of is the characters interacting with each other before they get busted by the police. It is only after the bust that we really see these characters’ individual personas, as, at first, they seem to think and act like a group for the most part. I just would’ve loved to see more of “the good times” amongst the friends so that, in the end, when their relationships start to deteriorate and they all start to turn on each other, it would’ve been that much more heartbreaking.
It is not often that I say that I’d wish a film was longer in runtime, but this is a very rare case here. In a world with so many films going on for quite too long, like recent, close-to-3 hour releases, I believe Low Tide, which clocks in at about 80 minutes, could’ve really benefited from a 120 minute runtime. I still really enjoyed the film for the 80 minutes it was on screen. Creative, smart, atmospheric, and tension-filled, Low Tide delivers a solid adventure with a great hint of good old classic nostalgia.