“Barracuda,” a thriller from Austin-based directors Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund that screened in March at South by Southwest, is built around the concept of people leading double lives.
Wayne Klein had a wife and daughter at home in Texas but toured all over the world and enjoyed a few extracurricular activities along the way. Over the years he harbored a big secret that comes to life after his death; he actually had fathered a child with a woman from England and would visit this second family when he was overseas playing shows. “Barracuda” picks up with Sinaloa (Sophie Reid, “Game Of Thrones”), the secret British daughter, making the trek to the United States and showing up on the door of her half-sister Merle (an outstanding Allison Tolman from FX’s “Fargo”) in Austin.
Sinaloa is blunt and gets right to the point. She ambushes Merle and her fiancé Raul (Luis Bordonada) on their front porch when they come home one evening in the dark, revealing who she is without hesitation. It’s clear to see that it’s a painful revelation for Merle, who is hesitant to accept this information about her late father as the gospel truth. Raul insists that they put her up for the night because she is family. But how can they know if that’s true? Hearing Sinaloa singing some of Wayne’s songs goes a long way towards convincing Merle that the story could be legitimate, but it opens a Pandora’s box that changes her life forever.
As Sinaloa is introduced to extended family members at an engagement party, her presence becomes quite a point of conversation and interest. This goes double for Merle’s mother, Patricia (delightfully played by JoBeth Williams), who isn’t actually very pleasant to her own daughter, never mind the secret offspring of her late husband. A relative at the party pulls Sinaloa aside and offers to help her investigate inheritance issues if she’s so inclined, which further blurs the line about what her intentions really are.
Slowly but surely, Merle’s perfectly curated existence is thrown out of whack by Sinaloa’s antics. Memories are conjured and questioned. An already strained relationship with her mother is pushed to the limits.
I was utterly enraptured by the first act of this film, completely taken by the story, the actors, and the familiar setting. Halfway into the picture, I was unsure of where things were going but thought I was ready for anything. Despite an enormous amount of foreshadowing, the film’s final third moves towards an abrupt twist that made me flinch but feels undeserved.
In the end, “Barracuda” really does deliver on the music. Sinaloa’s performances (including some tracks live at the Saxon Pub) are really beautiful and heartfelt. And there’s a lot of traditional Texas music and artists in the film like Colin Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and the Harvest Thieves, while Codeine drummer Chris Brokaw delivers a moody score.
Starring: Allison Tolman, Sophie Reid, JoBeth Williams
Rating: Not rated
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Theaters: AFS Cinema