Review by James Lindorf
From Indie film powerhouse A24 comes Writer and Director Kevin McMullin’s feature film debut Low Tide. High schooler Alan (Keean Johnson) and his friends Red (Alex Neustaedter) and Smitty (Daniel Zolghadri) spend the long days of summer resenting the affluent families vacationing in the boy’s beach town on the New Jersey shore. They spend their nights breaking into vacation homes stealing valuables to fund dates down on the boardwalk and lunches at the burger stand. When Alan brings his younger brother Peter (Jaeden Martell) along, they find the score of a lifetime, a bag of gold coins. The brothers try to hide them from the others, but Red is suspicious, violently unpredictable, and willing to do anything to get the money. Low Tide is currently available On Demand and in select theaters.
It is a bold move to name your first film Low Tide and to open yourself to all of the comparisons to the depth of your characters and screenplay. While McMullin didn’t create a world Shamu could frolic in; there is a lot that can be dissected in his freshman film. Alan has a budding romance with out of towner Mary (Kristine Froseth). Peter is a boy scout with a job selling fish who looks up to Alan, the closest thing to an adult in his life. Smitty is an opportunistic lap dog who asks how high when Red says jump, but will do anything to protect himself. Red is a psychopathic rich kid, angry at the world and every slight, real or imagined. With all of these relationships and motivations happening simultaneously, it should come as no surprise that some of them are quickly left by the dockside.
Peter may be a few years younger, but in many ways, he is the older brother. Peter is the one who’s more concerned with the big picture and is more forward-thinking, which Jaeden captures perfectly. Alan is looking for a little excitement before the rest of his life begins; unfortunately, his most significant influence is Red, which is fine with Alan, because when you are resigned to a life you don’t want, what are you risking? It is the combination of Mary and Peter that show him there is a different way to approach your life. However, Mary is easily the film’s most underdeveloped character. She disappears as quickly as she shows up, all without much personal motivation. Red also falls short of being fully realized, leading to the conclusion that he suffers from some undiagnosed mental disorder. Daniel Zolghadri may have the most fun playing the character Smitty whose motivations bounce around and whose character is often the story’s driving force.
Low Tide takes place in an uncertain time that could be anywhere from 1979 to 1992. The only things that lets you know it isn’t modern-day is the lack of cell phones, the car styles and the fact Bob Barker is still hosting The Price Is Right. The period setting places the kids in a time where there are fewer distractions, so they can spend all day wallowing in their situation and brewing resentment towards the vacationers. McMullin and Cinematographer Andrew Ellmaker did an excellent job with the vague setting, providing elements that multiple generations could relate too. The pair created a palpable atmosphere, and, forgiving an experimental scrapbook sequence, made a film that looks more expensive than their paltry budget.
Low Tide is an impressive first entry for McMillin and is deserving of more attention than it will most likely receive. His script could have used another once over to improve motivations for Mary and Red. McMullin’s real talent may be in directing, based on the quality of the performances from a relatively inexperienced cast and the consistent representation of their world. Whether he continues to write and direct or decides to narrow his focus Low Tide should serve as a great launching point for McMullin.