'Low Tide': Film Review

Low Tide - Publicity Still 1- H 2019
Courtesy of A24
Lackluster teen noir.

Teenage burglars in a New Jersey shore town get more than they bargained for when they come across a stash of gold coins in Kevin McMullin's debut feature.

A low-level crime drama doubling as coming-of-age movie, Kevin McMullin's Low Tide has little to offer other than a general air of nostalgia for the Jersey shore circa the 1980s. This tale of a teenage gang of petty criminals whose alliance becomes fractured by a surprisingly big haul doesn't generate any real suspense and lacks the depth of characterization to make up for it.

It's hard to imagine the audience for the film, set in an unspecified town (which really doesn't look like New Jersey at all) and featuring a cast of largely unknown young performers. The story revolves around townies Alan (Keean Johnson), the sensitive member of the gang; Smitty (Daniel Zolghadri), the not-too-bright lookout; and Red (Alex Neustaedter), the volatile rich kid who harbors an irrational hatred for the summer visitors he disparagingly refers to as "Bennies."

The trio makes a habit of burglarizing homes; not those belonging to the locals, but only the summer residences of the hated Bennies who swell the town's population every year. When Smitty accidentally breaks his ankle during one misbegotten caper, Alan enlists his younger brother Peter (Jaeden Martell, The Book of Henry and the It movies) to temporarily fill in as lookout.

The plot, or what little there is of it, is driven into motion by the gang's robbery of a cabin belonging to an eccentric, recently deceased ship captain. Alan and Peter come upon a stash of antique gold coins, but before they can inform Red of their find, they're forced to scatter due to the arrival of local cop Sergeant Kent (veteran character Shea Whigham, instantly recognizable and here providing some much-needed gravitas). Determined to wrest himself free from Red's domination, Alan decides to keep the money for himself and his brother, who have been mainly forced to fend for themselves since the death of their mother and the months-long absences of their fisherman father.

Cue the would-be tension, with Red becoming increasingly suspicious as Alan begins impulsively flashing money around while courting Mary (Kristine Froseth), a summer visitor whose big doe eyes changes his attitude about Bennies. Meanwhile, Sergeant Kent applies pressure on Alan, Smitty and Peter to inform on Red before he turns truly violent.

Writer-director McMullin seems to be aiming for a teenage noirish vibe with this feature debut, but the proceedings are so low-key and tedious that it feels like his heart wasn't in it. Feeling much longer than its 86-minute running time, the film is so narratively slack that the scenes that should pop, such as Alan's visit to a seen-it-all local pawnbroker who gives him $1,000 for one of the coins, instead fall flat (despite the terrific cameo by the late Mike Hodge; this represents his final film). The monochromatic visuals don't help, with the story apparently taking place only on extremely cloudy days.

None of that would matter if we cared about the principal characters, but despite some decent performances by the younger cast members (Martell is particularly good as the straight-arrow Peter, who displays surprising grit), they all register as little more than archetypes.  

Production coompany: Automatik Entertainment
Distributor: A24
Cast: Keean Johnson, Jaeden Lieberher, Alex Neustaedter, Daniel Zolghadri, Kristine Froseth, Shea Whigham
Director-screenwriter: Kevin McMullin
Producers: Brendan McHugh, Kevin Rowe, Richard Peete, Rian Cahill, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones
Director of photography: Andrew Ellmaker
Production designer: Chris Pottter
Editor: Ed Yonaitis
Composers: Brooke Blair, Will Blair
Costume designer: Jessica Ray Harrison
Casting: Susan Shopmaker, Lois Drabkin

Rated R, 86 minutes