2019 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: The intricacies of sound design all too often go unnoticed for want of visual language. But when an independent drama draws its audience in with a stunning visage and curious sound waves in equal measure, something special occurs. “Lost Bayou” is that unusual feature. With a vivid soundscape that really leaves its audience feeling as though they’re in the heart of Louisiana. A compelling narrative and a pair of strong performances only help further the already solid cause of this Southern Gothic mystery.

“Lost Bayou” could have devolved into cliche and parody with ease. The characters are on the fringes of society, a forgotten people too often assumed to have certain qualities. Director Brian C. Miller Richard pays tribute to this echelon of the world. How often can a story involve a faith healer and compel audiences without ever making them think about if the profession is a con or not? There’s magic to be found here.

Despite having escaped the bayou, Gal (Teri Wyble) is still a woman very much trapped. Trapped by addiction and her personal demons. A mother estranged from her young son, she’s at the lowest point in her life when her father calls. Pop (Dane Rhodes) and his daughter don’t speak much, so it’s a surprise call. A faith healer of some controversy, he wants her to come home due to the death of Gal’s mother. The thing is, she previously passed already, in a situation some wish Pop had gone to prison. Gal begrudgingly goes, and to her shock, finds a dead young woman in her father’s bed. He insists it’s his late wife and wants his daughter to journey with him to bury her.

After some resistance, Gal does accompany Pop, via houseboat, on this trip through the bayou. She hopes to get him to see the reality of the situation, protecting a man for whom she harbors complicated feelings. He, however, has even more on his mind than initially presumed. During the trip, they reconnect, even finding some salvation for each other along the way. At the same time, this is no fairy tale, as reality is always lurking around the bend.

“Lost Bayou” succeeds due to the small cast feeling organic and natural to the territory. Teri Wyble is in every scene and shines, while Dane Rhodes defies what you’d expect out of his character. With fewer names in the case, (co-writer Hunter Burke has a small part), it’s up to Rhodes and Wyble to lead the way. They have the tense chemistry of relatives with a wall between them. As it slowly comes down, audiences have the opportunity to bear witness to compelling new sides to each person.

Director Brian C. Miller Richard takes the screenplay by Hunter Burke and Nick Lavin and infuses it with strong sound/visuals. Burke and Lavin laid some solid foundation, which Richard deftly builds upon. The broad strokes of the addict part of the narrative are familiar, so Gal has to grow on the audience, but Pop is a unique figure. Moreover, Richard has the vibrant soundscape of the bayou, which puts you in the midst of the locale better than any plot point.

“Lost Bayou” tells an intimate and evocative story, all in under 90 minutes. The look, the sound, and the feel of this Louisiana swampland is brought to life in an unshakable way. Even at times when the plot slows to a crawl, what you see and what you hear keep you roped in. This is one of the bigger surprises of Tribeca so far.

Lost Bayou” debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 25 and is currently seeking distribution.

GRADE: (★★★)

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