Resurrection of both a literal and figurative kind factors heavily into “Lost Bayou,” director Brian C. Miller Richard’s saga about a down-and-out young woman who reunites with her father on his remote houseboat. Though there’s plenty of mysticism coursing through the film’s veins, there’s not quite enough magic, with the easygoing momentum often tipping into listlessness. Those with a fondness for Louisiana’s sultry, swampy backwoods will no doubt take to the movie’s pitch-perfect regional atmosphere, but that can’t compensate for a narrative that’s too predictable.
Premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, the drama (scripted by Nick Lavin and Hunter Burke) revolves around Gal (Teri Wyble), whose habitual boozing and pill-popping has alienated her from her young son. She shows up considerably zonked and a day late to the boy’s birthday party, held at the home of his father (Jackson Beals) and new step-mom. Before she can slink home into another narcotized stupor, however, Gal receives a phone call from own dad, Pop (Dane Rhodes), who tells her she has to come quick because of an issue with her mother.
Pop lives on a floating house on the Bayou decorated with hazy glass bottles and vases, old photos and other assorted knickknacks. When Gal reluctantly arrives, she’s informed (after enjoying one of Pop’s homemade concoctions) that mom has passed away, and that Pop intends to travel across the Atchafalaya Basin to bury her in the family plot. It’s obvious that father and daughter share a strained relationship, and the events surrounding her mom’s death initially exacerbate that divide, since Gal views the body of the woman he claims is his wife and discovers that she’s far too young to be the real thing. Ensuing comments by Gal and a predatory local warden (Joshua Sienkiewicz) reveal that Gal’s mother died three years earlier under mysterious circumstances — involving Pop.
An emergency trip to help a friend with a snake bite soon makes clear that Pop is some sort of healer, acting as a vessel for God to save those in trouble — and, in the case of a man seen in a prologue video, to bring the dead back to life. Gal and Pop’s eventual expedition down the river is punctuated by her visions of her mother (Carol Anne Gayle) in the thrashing water and a run-in with a stranger (Hunter Burke), most of it set to the Lost Bayou Ramblers’ insistent score of cascading fiddle, accordion and guitar, which intrudes on too many dramatic incidents. Cinematographer Natalie Kingston’s images are far more relaxed and beautiful, capturing this remote milieu’s sunlight-dappled stillness and allure, and the film casts an intermittent spell in those moments when it simply lingers on its unique landscape.
Such instances aren’t frequent enough, alas, and the material is too enraptured with portentous sights of dead birds and willowy clothes in the Bayou current. There’s little enchantment in a story that wears its themes — and basic intentions — on its sleeve. Nonetheless, as Gal and Pop head toward their fated destination, she struggling to stay clean and he mired in grief-stricken denial, Wyble and Rhodes develop a natural and affecting chemistry. Rhodes in particular makes a lasting impression, turning in a laid-back yet subtly weighty performance that’s light on affectation even as it delivers old-world Cajun charm.