Writer-director Lara Jean Gallagher’s cooly confident debut Clementine often positions itself as an erotic thriller, but feels more at home as a psychologically-tinged relationship drama. The distinction is slight, but could prove key to your enjoyment of the film. The intoxicating, tension-filled score from Katy Jarzebowski conjures up expectations of heart-stopping revelations that the story is just not fit to deliver. Instead, the invocation of power dynamics and the way in which a potential new paramour can mess with the decision-making skills of an otherwise reasonable person is enthralling enough to hold the attention of an appropriately primed audience.
Karen (Otmara Marrero) is introduced through some old, intimate cell phone footage shot by her older girlfriend “D” (Sonya Walger), who we only hear instead of see. It happens to be one of the only times we see Karen smiling throughout the film, as D admires her youth and beauty while predicting that Karen is going to break her heart. Unfortunately for the present-day Karen, D beat her to the punch. Heartbroken and alone, Karen wanders around Los Angeles like the saddest spectre in her post-break-up grief before unsuccessfully attempting to retrieve her dog. Out of good options and needing to clear her head, Karen heads to the woods of the Pacific Northwest where she intends to stay at a lake house owned by D. Seeing as she has not exactly been invited to the unoccupied abode, Karen has to stage a little break-in where can unwind and suss out what remains of her recently-ended relationship in her mind. What she does not intend to find is another intruder in the form of young Lana (Sydney Sweeney, Euphoria) sunbathing on the dock.
Lana is a mysterious beauty whose youth poses a major question mark from the very beginning; she claims to be nineteen, which Karen hesitantly accepts – likely because that is what she would like to be true. There are a variety of reasons why it would be smart of Karen to doubt anything Lana has to say. In their first conversation, a walled-off Karen doubts that Lana even has a dog when she asks for help tracking down the missing pooch. Sweeney expertly plays with different facets of Lana, projecting the sexpot confidence of an older woman one moment and a downright childlike innocence to the world the next. As an audience, you have to believe all is not as it seems, but it is difficult to nail down any type of truth for a while. In one of the most telling moments of the film, Lana tells a ludicrous story supposedly from her youth involving a clementine and a bird that she acknowledges sounds made up but is completely true. The mere acknowledgement of the perceived shakiness of her honesty is a fascinating thread to follow.
Karen did not make this solitary retreat to do anything but tackle her feelings, but this new presence in her life proves to be alluring. Slowly but surely, the two are drawn into each other’s orbit. Lana seems star struck that Karen is from LA, a place she dreams of going to make her mark as an actress. Whether or not we are to believe anything that Lana says, the one thing that we can tell is that she is quite a bit younger than late-twenty-something Karen. The implied influence of power of successful artist D over the younger Karen has been flipped with this latest dynamic. Karen knows as well as anyone how much potential sway she has over Lana, and the internal struggle over whether or not to perpetuate the cycle originated by D is very much a crux of the film. To complicate matters further, D sends young handyman Beau (Will Brittain) to fix some things around the house, but mostly to keep tabs on Karen and report back. The fact that Beau and Lana also appear to have an undefined familiarity with one another does not help to quell any questions.
Clementine is packed with tension, but does not go to great lengths to release it in any substantial way. This may be a sticking point for viewers not content to go on this deliberately paced journey. One of the great joys of the film is the way in which it conjures such a seductive atmosphere. The film offers up some compelling revelations to questions you might have, but it is a slow burn that rewards mostly with the journey rather than the destination. The transfixing Marrero delivers a subtly complex performance opposite the minx-ish Sweeney that will provide much fodder for post-movie analysis. There is one third-act event that strains credibility, but Gallagher does not overplay the moment to be completely incredulous. The restraint that is employed throughout the film is something that feels complementary to this particular story. In the end, Clementine may not offer jaw-dropping twists, but compelling themes and strong characters make this a very worthwhile endeavor.
Clementine comes to Blu-Ray in a 1080p presentation that is truly a beauty. This is a visually rich film with gorgeous shots of nature throughout where you can see an incredible amount of detail. The vivid colors really pop from the greens of the foliage to the splendid colors of clothing and elements of the production design in the lavish house. The white levels are handled beautifully, along with the intensely deep blacks that do not appear to suffer from any compression artifacts. There are no instances of intrusive digital noise in the presentation. The skin tones look very detailed and natural all around. This presentation is definitely a winner from Oscilloscope Films.
The Blu-Ray disc comes with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that brings this environment to life perfectly. From a key use of Lightning Dust’s entrancing “Atonia Jane” to the rest of the stellar soundtrack, the music is presented to great effect in the surrounds. The memorable score from Katy Jarzebowski is showcased beautifully here with a gently enveloping use of the surround speakers. The dialogue comes through crystal clear without ever being overpowered by the sound effects or the score. The sound design is just as precisely thought-out as the on screen visuals with all of the sounds positioned just right in the mix. The environmental effects create a really nice soundscape of subtle nature sounds. This is not an action-heavy film, so the activity in the low end is primarily saved for musical moments. This is a lovely sounding release that brings the movie to life exactly how you would want it to.
- Audio Commentary: Writer/Director Lara Jean Gallagher gives a really nice and informative commentary track that provides rich details about both the production and the story itself. Gallagher does a great job of keeping the information flowing with nary a dead spot to be found.
- Deleted Scenes: Three scenes of unused material totaling nearly seven minutes are included here featuring an alternate opening to the movie that defines the breakup a little more clearly, a weird skateboarding video that would have been a bit disjointed within the movie and more.
- Outtakes Reel: Nearly four minutes of takes that were not used in the film, mostly due to them being ruined by laughter or other elements in the world.
- Theatrical Trailer: A two-minute trailer that makes the film seem a bit more sinister than it actually is, but it’s well done.
Clementine is a lovely debut effort from the up-and-coming Lara Jean Gallagher, who proves herself to be a talent worth keeping an eye on in the future. This tale of attraction and power dynamics is one that moves along at a steady beat while remaining quite compelling. The performances from our two young leads are truly wonderful on all accounts. Oscilloscope Films has delivered a Blu-Ray with a top-notch A/V presentation and some special features more than worth your time. Recommended
Clementine is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Oscilloscope Films has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.