Mitchel Viernes’ Water Like Fire tells the story of two siblings: Chanel (Taiana Tully), who spends her days either working at the local restaurant or surfing at the beaches of Hawai’i, and Caleb (Randall Galius), who is either fighting a losing battle with drug addiction. Estranged after the death of their parents — how they died is never really explored — the siblings are reunited after the anniversary of their death when Caleb is injured in a near-fatal hit-and-run.
Despite some of my reservations about the acting and the dialogue, Water Like Fire is not a completely lost cause. Sure, some of the scenes are truly awful (specifically the close-up shots of Chanel surfing) but Viernes is earnest in the telling of the story and Tully and Galius are convincing as an estranged pair. The slow moments when Chanel and Caleb are trying to mend their broken fences are sweet and the cinematography adds volumes to the atmosphere and backdrop of the story.
At 91 minutes, the film sometimes feels overflowing with plot. It is hardly aimless, but sometimes you wish for the slower moments that the camera lingers on the scenery to linger on the subjects of the story. Particularly, the scenes looking at their family in the distant and recent past, carry much more weight than some of the scenes of Chanel with her work friends. The script, by Josiah Simpson and Viernes, spends more time telling than showing, especially at crucial moments.
Galius is the gem in this, projecting a broody and troubled expression, we watch as he slowly transforms with the aid of his sister and pushes himself forward down a difficult path despite the tragedies and obstacles in his way. Although Chanel might be initially considered to be the protagonist, it is Caleb who does the most changing throughout the story.
Emotionally devastating by the final act, Water Like Fire takes you on a journey of family, recovery, grief, and healing. Though the film is hardly perfect, there is a lot to redeem despite the uneven acting and dialogue, enough to keep me going through the film, curious about the end.
This film review is based on a screening from the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Photo Courtesy of Visual Communications.