Indie director David Gordon Green takes another trip to the Deep South in Undertow, where he finds farmer John (Dermot Mulroney) scraping a living with his two nippers, wayward Chris (Jamie Bell) and sickly Tim (Devon Alan). Into their less-than-idyllic lives wanders long-lost uncle Deel (Josh Lucas, with wild eyes and a wilder moustache). As soon as he mentions parole, you know he has scores to settle and that this festering thriller will end in tears.
Green artfully conjures up a sweaty, tick-infested landscape for his tragedy to play out against, and he's not afraid to crank up the pressure from the word go - the opening sequence involving Chris' bare foot, a long drop, and a rusty nail is a guaranteed toe-curler. There's also the lure of cursed treasure (which John inherited from his dear dead pappy) to spice up the plot in a film already heavily drenched in atmosphere.
"BELL LOOKS LIKE HE GREW UP SWIGGING MOONSHINE"
What's more, the players hit it spot on. Lucas fills his oily snakeskin boots with ease and rising star Bell looks like he grew up chasing hogs and swigging moonshine. Only Mulroney is too damn pretty to pull off the country hick thing.
Yet despite a nail-punishing first half, the boys aren't the only ones to lose their way when they go on the run from mad ol' uncle Deel. The tension swiftly unravels in a protracted chase sequence, climaxing in a relatively limp finale from the "is that it?" school of filmmaking. A front-loaded film, sure, but what a front.