Written and directed by Miranda Nation in her debut feature, struggling to accept the loss of her baby, Claire becomes suspicious of her husband’s relationship with a feisty young woman, Angie. Starring: Laura Gordon, Olivia DeJonge, Josh Helman and Rob Collins.
The beginning of Undertow plays out in a way that does what Pieces of a Woman couldn’t, instead of labouring over the physical experience of losing the baby, it’s cut together in an almost flashback form. It gets the emotions and seriousness across without needing to spend an overly long period of time exploring it, setting up a tense story with an edge of darkness. It delves into the psychological aspects of losing a child and the affect that it has on Claire’s mental state and her behaviour towards others. There’s a growing intensity to it, it has an edge of unpredictability and it’s not afraid to use discomfort to its advantage but is also clever enough not to overuse it. It’s a gripping story that moves at a great pace and holds your attention easily.
Miranda Nation’s direction, along with Bonnie Elliot’s cinematography capitalises on the theme of water that runs through the film, it artistically feeds into the melancholy, slightly suspicious atmosphere that the story builds. Not to mention that using the water and the well-chosen locations captures a stunning aesthetic. The way that it’s shot brings that classic feeling of questioning what’s happening, whether everything is real and whether there’s more that it’s not telling you, it strongly works an edge of mystery.
Laura Gordon’s performance as Claire is fantastic, she has a very sturdy, maternal persona but it’s filled with cracks formed by the loss of her baby, causing her behaviour to become more intense and erratic. One of the great things about it is that it doesn’t go overboard on the emotions, it’s not filled with constant weeping or breakdowns, because you can see the hurt she’s going through easily without that. That’s partly why it pairs all the better with Olivia DeJonge’s Angie, she’s very much one with sharp edges and her emotions on the surface. DeJonge really hits the note of using bravado to mask the vulnerable person beneath, she may act tough but her performance also gets through the damage and insecurities that are brewing beneath that. Helman and Collins are great support but they don’t get as much to do, this story is very much about its women and they do a superb job of feeding into that story without pulling focus.
Undertow is a gripping, tense portrayal of loss and mental health, lead by two intense performances by Laura Gordon and Olivia DeJonge. Nation’s direction brings a strong atmosphere of melancholy and suspicion, it uses a thriller edge to emphasise the emotional damage. It’s a bold way to tackle a story of losing a child but also does more justice to it.