Wetlands review

Does Wetlands exist?

I asked myself this in the hours prior to seeing this movie, which is usually when I do a little casual perusing of cast lists and random trivia. Letterboxd doesn’t have a thumbnail for it, and the IMDB entry is pretty bare bones. Rotten Tomatoes only has a user score. But here I sit, in a theater packed with people (many of whom appear to be related to the locally-shot film in some way), looking at a pre-show screen card with two single line reviews, both mentioning the fact that it was locally shot, and neither speaking to the quality of the film.

It was locally shot. That’s the one factoid I know about it. Oh, and Mr. Eko from LOST is in it. A lot of people in this theater are wearing formalwear. I have jeans and running shoes on. I didn’t run here, but my feet hurt and these have great support.

Oh snap! The director is doing an introduction!

I’ll talk to you after the movie.

Allllllrighty! I am pleased to inform you that Wetlands does indeed exist, and it is indeed a movie. Early buzz is spot on: Wetlands was shot locally! Score one for the good guys!

Writer/director Emanuele Della Valle prefaced the film by stating he put a lot of his heart into the movie. He then praised the acting talent and jokingly requested that since it’s his first film, “please forgive all of the mistakes.” It was a lovely, honest moment which immediately put me into the “rooting for this one” camp. And now that the film is over, I can say that all three things one could expect from Della Valle’s introduction most definitely came to pass:

– It was a movie made by someone with passion.

– The entire cast does a fantastic job.

– There were a lot of mistakes.

Asserting itself as a noir picture set in the doldrums of the Jersey shore off-season, Wetlands alternates between straightforward drama and the heightened melodrama inherent to its proposed genre. As such, there’s a lot of unintentional humor, which works a lot better than the strange moments of intentional humor (more on this shortly). The elements of a noir are all there: the tortured protagonist, his difficult ex, her troubled lover, and the young daughter at the center of it all. Oh and brooding. A fair amount of brooding goes down.

Here’s why: A former Philadelphia narcotics cop (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje aka Mr. Eko from LOST), now one year sober from a heroin addiction, takes a job as a cop in the ‘wetlands’ of Atlantic City. It’s a position granted to him by connections and favors, and the general consensus is that he probably doesn’t deserve it. Well, at least ever since the “Philadelphia Incident.” But as it stands, things are looking good for him. He’s staying clean, putting up with his drunken gambling addict partner (Christopher McDonald aka Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore), and working to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

You see, ever since the “Philadelphia Incident” she’s been living with her mother (Heather Graham), and her mother’s new lover (Lauren LaVera, I think — IMDB is lacking), both of whom are involved in the shady local drug trade. Toss in an approaching hurricane and the newscaster tasked with reporting on it and you’ve got yourself a hard-boiled (see: soft-boiled) thriller.

There are a lot of moments which really work, and it’s due almost entirely to the performers. I can’t overstate how good this lower-middle-of-the-road movie makes its cast look, especially Agbaje, who should absolutely be a leading man. He carries this film, often tapping into wells of emotion that don’t seem to be on the page.

Tonally this one is all over the place. There’s a very strange narration track that comes in so intermittently that it’s jarring. It’s even used to drive home a completely out of place reveal that, due to the clash of good performance and somewhat tone-deaf writing, is both shocking and uncomfortably hilarious. And that seems to be the brand here: accidental silliness elevated by good performers and competent direction.

And then there’s this one part that has such an underwritten, underthought, and completely icky rape joke that I, someone who really doesn’t get offended even when I know I should, felt gross. Even the performers on screen seemed to be cringing their way through it. It’s weird.

In the end, it was very cool to see a movie set in a very familiar place, and I commend the filmmakers for going all in on this. It’s not perfect, but there’s a shaggy dog respectability to it that made for a worthwhile watch.

Oh, and even though the IMDB page begs to differ, I assure you that Anthony Mackie is not in Wetlands.

Author: Dan Scully

Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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