Oak Cliff Film Festival Review: LA BARRACUDA Haunts With Quiet Melody

An excellent soundtrack helps bring this thriller to life.

Austin, Texas might be changing all the time but one thing that's always consistent is the city's rad live music scene. With La Barracuda, directing duo Jason Cortland and Julia Halperin give us a slow-burn Texas thriller brimming with tension and a lot of music.

Merle (Allison Tolman) appears to be a regular Austinite. She works a funky job at a children's science museum and is in the middle of planning her wedding to her fiancé, Raul (Luis Bordonada). But look a little deeper and things aren't quite so rosy. Aside from her overbearing mother Patricia (JoBeth Williams) highjacking her wedding, her boss overworks her with little to no praise. And despite appearances, she and Raul have major communication issues.

As the movie opens, a mysterious woman, Sinaloa (Sophie Reed), is ominously hitchhiking her way through the Texas countryside and into Merle's already hectic life. It turns out that she is Merle's half-sister by way of an illicit affair Wayne Kline, their late country musician father, had during a tour stop in England. Sinaloa explains that she's traveling through America while playing small gigs before making her way back home and wanted to meet her remaining blood relative after paying her respects to dearly departed dad.

But is that the only reason she came to visit? La Barracuda keeps you guessing her true intentions for the entirety of the movie by having Sinaloa act as shady as she is loving towards Merle. And this push-and-pull of not knowing Sinaloa’s motivations keeps the movie at a heightened level of tension that builds to a breaking point. 

The movie is robust with all types of bluegrass, country, and folk songs most of which are performed by Sinaloa. These songs, curated by local Austin musician Colin Gilmore, all have gently strummed melodies that make the dark lyrics a more palatable reflection of Sinaloa’s character.

Both leading ladies do an outstanding job bringing their characters to life. Allison Tolman’s face exudes so many conflicting and subtle emotions as she tries to wrestle with the invasive presence of her new half-sister, while Sophie Reed’s performance adds much to the eerie atmosphere, from her mannerisms to the way she's framed much like a masked serial killer. Between her gorgeous singing and her superb acting, which oscillates from manic to subdued at the drop of a hat, Ms. Reed will have no trouble finding larger roles in the future.

While La Barracuda starts off as a mild drama filed with a killer country soundtrack, it turns down right terrifying by the time the credits roll. This movie, much like a good song, will stick with you and haunt you days after seeing it.