THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Movie Review – Kate Can’t Swim
Review by Paul Preston
Actor Josh Helman made his mark in popular movies appearing in films like Jack Reacher, Mad Max: Fury Road and as Col. Stryker in the last two X-Men films. For his directorial debut, he picked quite the left turn from the content of the above-mentioned movies. It’s a pleasure, then, to report that Helman’s very successful at jumping genres, Kate Can’t Swim is a smart and surprising relationship drama with an accomplished cast.
Kate of the title is a writer in a relationship with Pete that has been going steady for a while, but early in the film there are signs that Kate is restless. Enter her long-time friend Em, just returned from Australia. Em left for down under a lesbian, but has returned with a boyfriend, Nick. Soon the foursome – Kate, Pete, Em & Nick – head to a cabin in upstate NY and have a grand old time. They have so much fun, there just HAS to be tension brewing underneath. Sure enough, the cabin in the woods is where it all goes down.
The script (co-written by Helman and co-star Jennifer Allcott) wisely sets up the first couple (Kate and Pete), then filters in Em and Nick as the pot-stirrers (even if they’re unaware they’re getting under Kate’s skin). Nick is a photographer of nude subjects (pretty much women) and Kate particularly butts heads with him. Is it over Kate’s jealousy at stealing up her best friend? Something more?
This is an indie film, shot in a short amount of time outside the studios’ realm and, in turn, it reminds me of two other independent film efforts – Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape and the films of Noah Baumbach. The Kate/Em relationship reminds me of some of Baumbach’s best Greta Gerwig moments. Celeste Arias as Kate and Jennifer Allcott as Em have a rapport and finish-each-other’s-sentences style that is appealing and their conversations spark of energetic realism. Helman plays Nick and his photography session with Kate leads to more top-notch acting and an uncomfortableness that echoes Soderbergh’s 1989 classic. There is definitely a feeling of the familiar in Helman and Allcott’s story, with two couple working things out, but the introduction of sexual fluidity raises the stakes. And if the material still seems familiar to you, ask yourself what I always ask, “is the familiar being done well?”. The answer here is a solid yes.
Throughout, Helman’s direction is swift and loose, but never lapses over into a slipshod series of scenes they cobbled into a feature. There’s a framework and goal at work when these characters are examined and the cast is up to it (I don’t want to leave out Grayson DeJesus, doing fine work as the hapless Pete). Joanna Naugle’s editing is crisp and maintains the film’s pace that supports the genuine feel of the dialogue and character intentions.
You’re going to relate to something in this film, whether you’re bottled up and don’t know how to release, festering in a relationship where one of you won’t open up, coming to terms with your growth into adulthood, being scared of what’s new. It’s all there, and in the end, Helman and Allcott seem generally hopeful about resolutions. For their characters, and you.
Kate Can’t Swim is available now on iTunes, GooglePlay, YouTube and more.
Directed by: Josh Helman
Release Date: January 23, 2018
Run Time: 90 Minutes
Distributor: Grand Street Films/Rooster Films