Low Tide (2019)

Directed by Kevin McMullin

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Low Tide is a neat little coming of age thriller about a group of boys who find a bag of gold.  It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, by any means, but it’s entertaining and engrossing, telling a familiar story of the unrestrained yearning of a certain moment in your youth, with ideas of responsibility, courage and just the rites of passage we pass through to reach some idea of adulthood.  

From very early in the film we understand clearly who each character is and how they might get each other and themselves in trouble.  There are three main boys in a gang of house robbers, plus a younger brother who tags along when one of the boys breaks his leg during the most recent burglary.  

They each represent something or are defined by almost a single trait.  Red (Alex Neustaedter) is chaos, Smitty (Daniel Zolghadri) is a weasel who’s only out for himself, Alan (Keean Johnson) is idealistic but a fool, and his younger brother Peter (Jaeden Martell) is the responsible one.

During one fateful robbery, Alan and Peter find a bag of gold, but when the police arrive, thanks to Smitty informing on them, Alan gets arrested and Peter hides the gold and makes his way on his own back home, all after Red has left them high and dry.

From there the two brothers figure out how to handle the money and dream about what they might do with it.  Smitty tries to deflect Red’s suspicions about who ratted on them and direct them towards Alan and his new love interest, Mary.  Then when Smitty learns about the gold, he wants in, and soon after Red begins to smell what’s brewing just behind his back.

All of these hanging threads are telegraphed from a mile away, and none of them are all too surprising.  That being said there is an undeniable tension to all of this, us being so certain that things will go wrong and soon.  

The group turns on each other so swiftly that it’s hard to imagine they were ever friends.  Even Alan, in theory being the ‘good one,’ is corrupted by the gold and lies about spending it to his brother, who insists they must keep a low profile until the heat dies down.

It’s an interesting story with two real main characters.  Alan gets to have the love interest, and Peter gets to be the responsible one who holds they key to the gold.  In some other version of this story they would be the same person, but Low Tide insists upon showing that Alan, no matter how saintly he appears in certain situations, is really just as corruptible as his deadbeat friends.  

The film hurries towards its ending and feels a little hallow as a result.  There are certain climactic face-offs that come across as a bit insincere because of how quickly and simply they manifest, but the journey to get there is nevertheless riveting and entertaining.  

The film reminded me of another recent dark coming of age film, 2017’s Super Dark Times.  In that film, like this one, the high school-aged friends must deal with a secret only they know, only in that case it’s bad from the get go, the reckless death of one of their friends.  Again like with Low Tide the friends respond in different ways.  One appears to be more responsible, another more of a wild card, and they collide as they try to figure out how to deal with what happened.

But in that film the wild card character, like Red here, is both so much more volatile and vulnerable.  He’s raw in a way I think teenagers are and we all once were, whether or not we know it.  Red, however, is something like the Joker, a manifestation of chaos but one that is a little too neat, too manufactured.  He starts to feel like a Stephen King villain by the end, something almost magical and inhuman.  

And maybe that was the intention, after all he does ignite much of the plot, but the three other characters all seem to be struggling to deal with their circumstances.  Even if they hurt each other it’s because they don’t know any better or they’re just trying to protect themselves.  

In either case this story, like so many coming of age stories that handle some kind of dark secret, feels like the stuff of legend, a story they will repeat to themselves years down the line.  

Up Next: Julieta (2016), Spartan (2004), Talk to Her (2002)

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