Lewis, Lilian, Carl, and Sam go storm chasing in Drought.
Drought is an interesting character study of a dysfunctional family living in a small town located in North Carolina. The year is 1993, and the state is suffering from a severe lack of rainfall. We first meet teenagers Carl (Owen Scheid), his older sister Sam (Hannah Black), and their mother Lorraine (Jane McNeil) seated at the dinner table waiting for their father (or more likely step-father) Brandon to arrive home. Brandon is late for their scheduled dinner time, but Lorraine refuses to let the kids have anything to eat until he arrives. There is an underlying tension at the table as they stare at the food and each other, especially between Sam and Lorraine who even use the amount of salt on their food to express their dislike of each other. Carl, who suffers from autism, says things like it is past time to eat but Lorraine is very old school when it comes to parent/child relationships, insisting that Carl and Sam treat Brandon like he is the true patriarch of the family even when it becomes obvious that he is not. She also doesn’t know how to cope with Carl’s condition. She asks him about his day and demands that he look her in the eye when he talks, but as soon as he begins to answer, speaking about his favorite topic, the weather, she cuts him off. Brandon soon arrives, and they start to eat, but both Carl and Sam quickly ask to be excused from the table after Brandon tells them that they must obey what their mother says. Lorraine is more interested in bragging about the intimate fun together that she and Brandon had earlier that day, a somewhat surprising turn of conversation after spouting off about traditional family values and behavior at the dinner table.
When Carl has an autistic episode, Sam works to calm him down.
Both Carl and Sam have part time jobs at a local grocery store. It is clear that Sam has helped Carl get his job, mostly as a courtesy clerk in charge of retrieving grocery carts and returning them to the store front. Carl’s autistic nature turns this process into an absolute procedure, and when a customer just wants to take a shopping cart without it going through that process, it causes an incident that leads to Carl being fired. The manager of the store doesn’t even have the courage to do this face to face, instead calling Sam into his office and eventually asking her to tell Carl the bad news, after she pleads his case. He gives both of them the rest of the day off to do this. The next day the two are surprised by the unexpected arrival of their older sister Lilian (Megan Petersen) who is estranged from the family and has been living in another town. Sam is shocked to find out that Lorraine and Brandon have been arrested for unloading drug paraphernalia, and Lilian has been asked to stay with Carl and Sam to act as a surrogate mother. This does not sit well with Sam. While they argue about this, Carl slips off to work, not realizing that he has been fired, because Sam never got around to telling him. Figuring that Carl will cause another scene at work, she and Lilian hurry off in Lorraine’s big ice cream truck (selling ice cream around the neighborhoods was her job) to intercept him. At the store there is a scene, with Carl not understanding why he had been fired when he hadn’t broken the rules of his job while Sam tries to explain that there are unwritten rules of behavior in life and that things aren’t always fair. Eventually Sam is able to calm him down with the promise of a road trip to chase after a thunderstorm coming soon to break the drought, something that he really wants to do.
Lilian, Lewis and Sam in the front of the ice cream truck.
As Carl and Sam begin to prepare for their road trip, now made possible with Lorraine in jail, we are introduced to the fourth main character of the film, Lewis (Drew Scheid). Lewis is a friend of Sam and Carl, and we learn later has a similar family situation with uncaring parents. Quickly he is asked if wants to go on their storm chasing trip, and the easy-going Lewis says yes. This turns out to be a fortunate thing as he is the only one on the trip that has any money, something he earned by donating blood that morning. Sam and Lilian continue their bickering about who is in charge and whether Lilian should go on the trip. In the long run, all four are inside the ice cream truck and Drought now turns into a road trip film. On the trip, our four protagonists run into the usual kinds of things you would expect of three siblings and a friend chasing after the weather in a “borrowed” ice cream truck. But really this is just the set up for a series of conversations between Sam and Lilian has they begin to work out the reasons for their estrangement and for Carl a chance to have a leadership role in figuring out where the storm will actually be, based on all his calculations and research. Lewis, along for the ride plays an important part by just being a friend and sometimes a sounding board as the other express their frustrations and desires.
Lewis and Carl enjoying lunch.
Drought represents the first serious film collaboration of Hannah Black and Megan Petersen, who wrote, directed and starred in the film together. The film has had success in a series of local film festivals, and eventually was accepted as an Amazon Prime video, which is where you can rent or purchase it now. The characterizations are well acted by Black and Petersen as are the performances of the Scheid brothers who play the male characters. This is very important as the story line is pretty thin, but the fine ensemble work of our quartet of leads makes for an interesting character study. The portrayals strike you as genuine, especially that of Owen Scheid as the autistic teenager Carl. That combined with good production values makes Drought definitely worth viewing.
Sam and Lewis at the motel.
Sam videotaping from the back of the ice cream truck.
One of the interesting facts of North Carolina back in 1993 besides the drought, was that the factory to produce Chuck Taylor All Stars and other Converse sneakers in their product line was located there in the town of Lumberton. The film reflects their local popularity with two of the main cast members wearing high top chucks in red and optical white, and some of the minor characters like the boxer they run into when they stop at a gym sporting black high tops. Chucks appear frequently in the cinematography and are especially noticeable since Sam and Lewis are wearing shorts throughout the film. The best scene with Hanna Black was when she was seated in the back of the ice cream truck with her camera, and later has a conversation with Lilian who comes over to join her.
San kneels down to retrieve her video camera.
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