Movie Review: “Like a House on Fire”

She’s almost certainly expecting too much when she makes that first call.

“Hi Dan. I just wanted to say that I’m OK and that I’m back now.”

Knocking on his door just confirms it.

You can’t “just show up,” Dan barks. “That’s not how it works.”

And your daughter, “our” little girl? “She doesn’t remember you.”

“Like a House on Fire,” a quiet, downbeat and deflating drama from Canada is about a marriage interrupted, in Dara’s eyes, a marriage permanently broken in Dan’s.

Something — post partum depression, manic depression — made Dara (Sarah Sutherland of “Veep”) run away from Dan (Jared Abramson) and their infant daughter, Isabel. Now, two years later, the wayward wife has returned with some notion of everything going back to “the way it was.”

But whatever it was that made her flee, Dan took it hard. And he’s not taking her turn well, either. When Dara meets Dan’s new live-in love ( Dominique Provost-Chalkley), she’s taken aback. The fact that Therese is seven months pregnant pours salt on the wound.

We can see what she does. Dan didn’t waste any time.

But what Jesse Noah Klein’s quietly understated drama makes clear is that Dara gave everybody reason to think this rupture was permanent. The way her dad and stepmother (Michael Buchanan and Amanda Brugel) walk on eggshells around her, the pity and “understanding” in Therese’s voice all underscore just how “not yourself (Dan’s words)” she was.

And nobody wants to provoke that sort of behavior in her again.

“I’m just trying to help. I’m on your side.

We don’t know where Dara went — a mental hospital, probably. But as this movie progresses we get a taste of her mood swings, her panic attacks, her impulsiveness (making out with a teenager), her intensity of feeling.

“Everything felt wrong because ‘I’ did it,” she narrates to Isabel (Margaux Vaillancourt ), now four and wondering who this off-putting stranger is. “I loved you so much that I forgot to breathe. And then I ran out of air!”

Not a lot happens in “Like a House on Fire,” not a lot as in “not quite enough.” But Sutherland — Kieffer’s daughter, Donald’s granddaughter — makes the subtle shades of pain ache and Dara’s mystery well worth exploring in a story that feels too real to distance yourself from.

MPA Rating: unrated, violence, adult themes

Cast:  Sarah Sutherland, Jared Abrahamson, Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Amanda Brugel, Michael Buchanan and Margaux Vaillancourt

Credits: Scripted and directed by Jesse Noah Klein. An Entract/Gene Theory release.

Running time: 1:25

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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