Clementine’s lovely opening sequence shows Karen in bed, the morning sun barely able to match the light of love emanating from inside her. We never see Karen’s lover’s face, but we hear D’s voice as the two ladies share the beginning of a day. Our next scene has Karen unable to enter the house the two shared. Ramsey the dog barks at her through the glass pane of the door that Karen’s key no longer opens. Frustrated, she hops back in her car.
We soon learn that Karen’s idea of revenge (or coping) after being dumped is to break into D’s Oregon lake house, take down a painting from over the bed, smoke some pot, drink some wine, and replay D’s voice messages. Her plan doesn’t seem to go much deeper, but it’s not long before she has met Lana, a local girl who claims to be 19 years old – though we all know she’s younger. Lana is a bit odd, though clearly attracted to Karen, herself intrigued by the unusual girl. This strange little cat and mouse game is then crashed by Beau, the handyman for D’s lake house.
The first feature from writer-director Lara Gallagher excels at keeping us off-balance, despite moving at a pace that allows the viewer plenty of time for thought and observation. Complementing the uneasiness is the score from Katy Jarzebowski, with its harsh single piano note, sometimes accompanied by violin…the sound of a horror film, though this is no Hollywood cabin in the woods. Three times we are shown the handgun in the drawer, and though it plays a significant part, it’s not in the way that our movie mind has been trained.
Otmara Marrero plays Karen, and rising star Sydney Sweeney is Lana. The two joust very well, though it’s Lana who fascinates. She’s curious of love and life, while not quite being ready. Lana is a manipulator thanks to an innocence that draws Karen in. Will Brittain (Blow the Man Down) plays Beau in a manner of which we are never really certain – friend or foe? Finally, Sonya Walger is D. She doesn’t show up until late in the film, but she is precisely what we have envisioned.
There is an odd cadence to the film, and the performances assist with confounding us. It’s a coming of age story for two females of different ages, and we can’t help but notice that Karen has been involved in two relationships featuring the older woman/younger woman dynamic. Of course, her role reversal in the two relationships is at the core of the film. Indie band Lightning Dust contributes an outstanding song with “Antonia Jane,” and we are left thinking this is a psychological thriller without the thrills. Filmmaker Lara Gallagher has delivered a personal project reminding us that toxic relationships aren’t limited to man-woman.
Clementine is available on virtual cinemas.