Another intimate relationship drama following writer-director Eric Byler’s debut feature “Charlotte Sometimes” and lit adaptation “Americanese,” “Tre” is a “Charlotte” quasi-sequel that in many ways is the most compelling of the trio. Tale of a 30ish quartet at personal crossroads in the wealthy, idyllic Santa Monica Mountains sports juicy conflicts and prickly dialogue, though the directorial approach remains judiciously low-key. Given the lack of recognizable names or other obvious marketing hooks, theatrical prospects are iffy, but polished effort should play well in ancillary formats.
Burly, shaven-headed Tre (Daniel Cariaga) drives recklessly drunk up winding mountain roads, arriving around dawn at the casa of longtime best bud Gabe (Erik McDowell) and the latter’s girlfriend Kakela (Kimberly-Rose Wolter). To his annoyance, their secondary cottage is already inhabited by Kakela’s pal Nina (Alix Koromzay), who’s just left her husband. Nina is prickly and defensive; Tre’s the type to deliberately push buttons, then blame the target for taking offense. Natch, they don’t get off to a great start. Yet they commence an affair of ambiguous value to either party.
As if that doesn’t complicate domestic arrangements enough, Tre starts working on Kakela. He stokes a slow-burning mutual attraction while underlining her doubts about marrying oblivious, sweet-natured Gabe.
Tre’s motivations are cloudy, perhaps even to himself. Does he really feel something for Kakela? As a dedicated layabout (“I reject the notion that a steady job makes me successful and a college degree makes me smart,” he proclaims when they get stoned together one night), does he view the aspiring writer/trust-fund babe as a long-term meal ticket? Or simply as an obstacle to his possessive friendship with Gabe, one to be removed by whatever traitorous means he deems necessary?
Perfs and script (co-written with Wolter, whose character first appeared in “Charlotte”) etch the characters in terse, credible, assertive strokes that resist “explaining all” in terms of personal histories. Offbeat setting — funky yet expensive rural abodes of children once-removed from enormous (and generally Hollywood-earned) parental privilege — is another plus in the sharply realized production package.