The Wait: SXSW Review

Icily beautiful story of loss-fueled floundering is long on mood and sense of place.

Chloe Sevigny and Jena Malone play sisters with very different means of coping with their mother's death.

AUSTIN — An art film whose seductive qualities don't entirely erase the suspicion that its weirder elements might be empty affectation, M. Blash's The Wait makes as much of its Pacific Northwest setting as of the supernatural themes that serve as its ambiguous starting point. Leads Chloe Sevigny and Jena Malone should draw attention to niche arthouse bookings, but Blash's quiet command of mood and mystique is an equal asset.

The two actresses play sisters whose mother has just died. While Angela (Malone) finishes dressing the body in anticipation of handing it over to morticians, Emma (Sevigny) answers a cryptic phone call in which a stranger, apparently a psychic, hints that her mother "will return." Taking this at face value in what we can only view as grief-fueled temporary insanity, Emma insists on keeping the corpse at home, even planning a party for the day Mom comes back to life.

Though she's aghast, Angela doesn't push the issue. In their dreamy, aimless state -- observing with fascination but no fear the wildfires raging in nearby mountains -- few characters here are prepared to push anything. Certainly not Ian (Devon Gearhart), Angela and Emma's younger brother, who leaves the house and drifts around this wooded community, hanging out at a friend's place and trailing a cute girl he sees at the pool.

Young men are watchers here -- both Ian and neighbor Ben (Luke Grimes) have a habit of standing at uncomfortable distances and observing others, interacting with them only when ready. One suspects Blash identifies with them: His compositions are considered and elegant, making particularly good use of Central Oregon landscape and the angular, modern wooden homes poised among its trees. The film is beautiful in a distant, chilly way, though the shallowness of blacks in Kasper Tuxen's photography (a hazy look evoking the smoke of long-burning wildfires) can be distracting.

Owen Pallett's score presents similar issues -- the swoop and repetition of its oscillating electronics is pleasing and perfectly aligned with the film's mood, but sometimes calls attention to itself.

Angela, introduced as the sane sister, is nevertheless suffering from a year-old but humiliating breakup. Meeting handsome, sensitive Ben should be unambiguously good news, but by their second or third encounter it seems to be pushing some of the same buttons the stranger's call pushed for Emma. Blash sends her into a manic rant that can only partly be blamed on alcohol near the story's end, behavior that isn't as psychologically credible as it is convenient for narrative symmetry. Then he doubles down in the film's final seconds, with a rapid-fire montage that seems to unravel the script's uneasy but believable resolution. It's the kind of capper that art-damaged experimentalists may love, but most others will see as a gratuitous attempt to stoke post-movie "what the --" conversation.

Production Company: Visit Films
Cast: Jena Malone, Chloë Sevigny, Luke Grimes, Josh Hamilton, Devon Gearhart, Lana Green, Michael O'Keefe
Director-Screenwriter: M. Blash
Producers: Ryan Crisman, Neil Kopp, Riel Roch Decter, David Guy Levy
Director of photography: Kasper Tuxen
Production designer: Ryan Smith
Music: Owen Pallett
Costume designer: Heidi Bivens
Editors: Justin Kelly, Jessica Brunetto
Sales: Visit Films
No rating, 96 minutes