RogerBW's Blog

Waterborne 25 July 2014

2005, dir. Ben Rekhi, Christopher Masterson, Ajay Naidu: IMDb / allmovie

After a presumed terrorist attack pollutes the water supply of Los Angeles, three groups of people do their best to keep going as society collapses.

It's a great start to see that the film doesn't open with the contamination itself; Rekhi has the guts not to need to hook people in with an action sequence. In fact much of the meat of this film is not in action but in talk, with slow menace; or asides like the Sikh matriarch who's stockpiled, for her family's use, American flags and "God Bless America" t-shirts, because she remembers what happened four years ago. Yeah, this is very much a post-9/11 film, for all we don't see any actual flag-waving or random invasions.

I'm slightly surprised that at first nobody seems to think of getting out of Los Angeles; it's only on the second morning that the traffic jams start up, and that's pretty much just one scene. It may be that the locals aren't as aware as I am of just how much water Los Angeles needs to pull from the surrounding area and even surrounding states. (But then, I find the idea of voluntarily living somewhere as hot as the southern USA fairly strange in the first place.) The other aspect of Los Angeles which seems to me to be missing is the criminal element, whom one feels should at least be visible. The police aren't around either; maybe they're all off dealing with each other somewhere else.

As far as I'm aware, the film never got a theatrical release; made with a budget around $200,000, it went straight from film festivals to DVD. The direction is sometimes a bit too pleased with itself, particularly on the second night when various beatings and lootings are intercut with a Sikh festival. There are also rather too many closeups for my taste; I think of LA as a place with sudden huge spaces, and we don't see many of those here.

The plot's relatively weak: the situation's established, people try to cope with it, and ultimately it's dealt with. The three groups come together at the end in a wrap-up that feels contrived and somewhat stagey. The research and investigation of the pathogen are entirely off camera here; the characters in this film are the innocent bystanders.

People whom would expect to be stereotypes manage to do just a bit better than expected: the Sikh woman isn't simply disapproving of her son's Anglo girlfriend, she's considering the longer-term situation; by the time the young soldier who shoots a looting kid is taken to task by his commander, he's already internalised the fact that he's profoundly changed his own life as well as ending that of his target.

Some of it's pretty heavy-handed, but mostly the moralising is confined to the beginning and end of this slim 78-minute film. This is the sort of film I want to see more of: no studio involvement, no big name cast or crew, insignificant budget by modern standards, but interest, enthusiasm, good ideas and raw talent. Sure, it's not perfect, and some microbudget true indies are complete rubbish. But it's enjoyable, and it has energy, not feeling worn smooth like your standard studio film.

Alas, Rekhi hasn't done much directing since: three shorts and a single TV episode.

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