Review by Sean Boelman
Written and directed by Hilary Brougher, South Mountain is an intimate new drama exploring relationships and heartbreak. However, despite excellent performances and some very interesting character work, the film ends up feeling melodramatic because the plot is a bit too over-the-top.
The movie follows a woman whose life falls apart when her teenage daughters leave for the summer and her husband reveals something to her that will prevent their relationship from being the same ever again. What starts as a relatively grounded film about a family in turmoil eventually becomes something much less consequential when the stakes become too high.
The first thirty minutes of the movie build to a climax that ultimately comes much too early. Brougher sets up a lot of moving parts in the introduction, and while exploring all the different elements of the story is intriguing, that promise is largely abandoned heading into the second and third acts, which are disappointingly generic, particularly given what viewers will have just seen.
Undeniably the most interesting part of Brougher’s film is its characters. Brougher handles the characters at an arm’s length, not allowing the viewer to ever get too close to them, but still making it feel something familiar. The supporting characters are admittedly a tad more conventional than the protagonist, but that character is so interesting and alluring that one can’t help but get invested in her story.
There is some interesting commentary to be found in the movie about relationships, particularly in relation to their dissolution, but this isn’t developed prominently. The portions of the film that address the childrens’ perspective on the failing relationship are absolutely fascinating, but are mostly swept under the rug in favor of the more obvious conflict.
Talia Balsam (who is best-known for her recurring role in Mad Men) gives a great leading performance. For such a complex role, the range which Balsam is able to pull off is highly impressive. There are a lot of sudden and drastic changes in the character, and while they don’t entirely make sense within the context of the script, Balsam allows them to be believable.
Brougher is also a very talented director behind the camera. As the title suggests, the movie is set in a mountainous paradise and the cinematography by Ethan Mass does a great job of taking advantage of this. By juxtaposing the natural beauty of the shots with the harshness of the tension, Brougher is able to create an interesting emotional response.
There are some very good things happening in South Mountain, but a majority of them happen in the first act. That said, the unusual character work featured in the film makes it something more than worthwhile.
South Mountain hits VOD on May 5.