“Cicada Song” is a sometimes compelling mystery-thriller set in America’s heartland, a missing persons story set in remote, rural Missouri.
The feature debut of writer-director Michael Starr has many of the requisite ingredients of a solid indie outing — a little-filmed setting, missing children, and adults, ethnic tensions surrounding the “Mexican” farm labor, with small town small mindedness on ready display.
What this 77 minute movie lacks is anything like a remotely satisfying, or even comprehensible solution to the mystery, and an ending that doesn’t look like “Let’s wrap it up in post (production) because we’re out of money.”
Rushed, “pat” in its summing up, and yet under-explained, the finale is where this uneven, almost-passable picture drops the ball.
Somebody left for dead is coming to in the woods, somebody female. The back-story of who she is and how she got there, awakening to the “Cicada Song,” is our story.
Hispanic convenience store clerk Annabelle (Jenny Mesa) and farm manager Karen (Lyndsey Lutz) are a couple, which ruffles a lot of feathers in tiny Hermann, Missouri.
Annabelle’s ex (Rob Tepper) is downright hostile. Any time he sees either one of them, he can’t let go of the d-word, the one that rhymes with “bike.”
Karen’s estranged from her father. “Dad!” “Don’t CALL me that.”
And then there are the older, sullen jerks like Bob Wilkes (L.R. Hults) who remind us that farmers are basically small businessmen, inclined to take shortcuts and skip out on loans, and not necessarily the hearty, self-sufficient stereotypes America pretends they are. At least Bob’s mentally-challenged son (Stephen Blum) seems nice. When he’s not gawking at Annabelle.
Karen’s bosses (Kim Reed and Joseph Bottoms) are indulgent, prone to giving generous bonuses. She keeps their farm in the black, plays hardball with suppliers and learned Spanish to deal with the hired hands — and win Annabelle’s heart.
But now, the workers are telling her a little girl is missing. Her employers seem unconcerned. Nobody wants to involve the authorities. Karen starts digging around, learns of another missing kid, starts to wonder if a local creeper is responsible, and if that connects to out of town land speculators.
And then an adult goes missing.
What Starr gets exactly right is the intimacy of shrinking small towns, how everybody knows everybody else, everyone has history. Richard, who used to date Annabelle, went to high school with Karen. When farmer Bob blows a wad of cash on a new combine, that’s gossiped around town and certain to irk Karen, whose employers loaned him money he still hasn’t repaid.
But not everybody in the cast is a polished professional. And the story’s many holes, leaks and lapses in forward motion throw the clumsier performances into sharp relief.
The gay romance at the heart of the movie works, the glowering faces of the beer guts at the town bar when one of them walks in rings true.
But Starr overreaches for something bigger than the classic small town crime and tragedy this movie wants to be. The few twists that are here aren’t much, and the better twists we anticipate don’t come to pass.
And then that ending, which reminds one of David Lynch’s “Dune,” a movie that’s sauntered along suddenly rushes to get to some sort of conclusion — “whatever we have the footage to cover.”
Try again, folks.
MPA Rating: unrated, violence, profanity, slurs
Cast: Lyndsey Lantz, Jenny Mesa, Kim Reed, Joseph Bottoms, Rob Tepper, Cesar Ramos, L.R. Hults and Stephen Blum
Credits: Scripted and directed by Michael Starr. An Indie Rights film on Amazon Prime.
Running time: 1:17