Movie Review - The Black Sea (Portland Film Festival)

The premise is reminiscent of Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi's feature About Elly. A group of people spend the weekend together at a vacation home on the beach. There are some tensions that explode between the people when one of them, a woman, disappears. Farhadi made his film of a woman's disappearance about six or seven years ago. It only got distribution in the United States this year. A mystery builds of whether the woman left on her own accord, if she accidentally was pulled under the water, or if she committed suicide. That mystery is never solved. The movie is more about the relationships of the people left behind and their interpersonal issues.

Writer-director Brian Padian does the same. He builds a mystery around a woman's disappearance. He doesn't resolve that mystery. He merely makes it about the interpersonal issues of those left behind. Unlike Farhadi, Padian's tone leans toward horror, whereas Farhadi's film is simply a straight drama, but Padian wants to be more haunting. That isn't underlined more than with the opening score. The music is awash with a sense of dread.

It's ever so slight, but Padian also hints at possible, supernatural tones. In that regard, this film is also reminiscent of recent, independent films that embrace those kinds of elements, but in a small, intimate fashion, usually of people confined to one location. Vibes of The One I Love and Coherence from last year are felt. Yet, any supernatural tones are speculative and kept at a distance. The only thing that Padian truly embraces is horror like with the use of the intentional jump-scare for example.

Padian shot the film in Super 16. This is only noticeable in certain scenes where the grain and even some scratches can be witnessed. Set in Oregon, there's barely any sunshine, even during the day. Gray skies abound, but many scenes take place at night. Padian doesn't seem to use a lot of artificial lighting, so the utilization of 16 mm or film stock in general might have been purposeful to capture those low-light or dark scenes the way he wanted.

Corrina Repp stars as Allison, the artist and painter who is the woman in question. She comes to the vacation house without her boyfriend. She seems depressed or down about something. She barely talks or interacts with anyone. When she disappears, the movie employs a series of flashbacks that paint a picture of her state of mind.

There are flashbacks, which paint the picture of the other four characters' states of minds as well. What's annoying or frustrating is that whether in present or in flashback, none of those characters are likeable or all that interesting. Padian probably made them all horrible or turn-offs intentionally but it makes the movie that much more difficult.

It made me not want to spend time with any of them. It made me wonder why even the characters themselves want to spend time with each other. Everyone snipes at each other and is at times nasty to each other, and it's a chore to watch.

I did like how Padian kept the title of this movie vague. There is a strong indication of what it does mean visually, but it's good that he isn't too heavy-handed. It's indicative of his potential to be a great filmmaker.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 11 mins.
Reviewed for Portland Film Festival.
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