A self-aware soundtrack, a young couple driving the landscape via Shining-eye view and little kiddies rapping a skip-rope warning song just as strange cages on the houses are pointed out? With its heart, oddity and scruff-of-the-neck production values, Vanessa Ionta Wright's Rainy Season is a smack on the nose example of Stephen King's Dollar Baby project.
Dollar Babies, for the uninitiated, are films based on King's short stories. Rather than being the big-bucks blockbuster affairs that come from his novels, King licences his content out for the princely sum of a dollar so that fan projects can become a reality.
Reality itself is joyfully strained in Rainy Season. It’s a good ode to Uncle Stevie at his snarky, blue-collar American best. The outsider couple need a place to stay over and must contend with the strange ways of the locals. The best thing by miles about this 'baby' is how generously the townsfolk, played by Kermit Rolison and Jan Nelson, are drawn. You can practically hear King's written tics in old Henry's (Kermit’s) reaction as the kids hone into view. Both he and Laura (Nelson) centre the heart of the story by making us care for the clueless folk, while emphasising that impending sense of doom. Yes, the dialogue and plot is telegraphed straight from Hell itself and yes it makes their delivery automatically camp, but this gives the caper a light shower of silly fun to start with. It’s vital as while Brian Ashton Smith and Anne-Marie Kennedy are reasonably believable as the young couple, they are at their best when they're silent. More problematically, their contrasting appearances – her a delicate femme fatal and him with his badboy frames and funky facial hair – are so emphasised by claustrophobic close-up cam shots that they seem almost a little too modern for this very folksy yarn.
So, is it scary? Well, it does depart from the original story. The film adds an earnest unease as it dances around the young folks' relationship with its Oscar period-piece style shadows and character-solitude shots. The atmospheric effects also evolve into a rather heavy orchestral over score, making it drama with a capital D as it teases whether the lovers will be put asunder by local lynch mobs or each other. While it sounds as much fun as a fight with killer foot fungus, it gives the story the gravitas seen in King’s longer work. Nevertheless, this is a King-inspired short and he does ‘em deliriously silly. When the mooning is over, we return to a colander of Constant Reader-ready references, paranoia and pottyness. There's also just enough blood to get the juices going without breaking the SFX budget or trying to plumb the depths for something best left in the mind's eye.
While Rainy Season eschews the original story's outright bizarreness, its jarring tone adds a winning sense of surrealism and that all-important, calm-after-the-storm money shot. You’ll want to see, as old Kermit does, if the couple croak.....
RAINY SEASON / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: VANESSA IONTA WRIGHT / STARRING: BRIAN ASHTON SMITH, ANNE-MARIE KENNEDY, KERMIT ROLISON, JAN NELSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (USA); UK RELEASE DATE TBA