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As the very real droughts of California begin to wane, the chaos is far from over and the damage caused could have lasting impact that is still unclear. It’s not a new problem and has been tackled in film before, at least in the peripheral. With Pray for Rain, the latest that shines a light on the devastation and the effects it’s had on those that try to make a living there, the story is naturally compelling, in a film that surges with great potential though only goes part way in giving it the weight it deserves, instead spinning the film into a murder mystery that drifts from the theme.
In New York City, Emma (Annabelle Stephenson) works as a journalist covering celebrities when she gets a call that her father’s been killed in a tractor accident in rural Bella Conejo, California. She arrives reluctantly to the home of her estranged mother Olivia (Jane Seymour), with the two seemingly unable to find any common ground, obvious long-festering bitterness keeping them separated. It’s not long after though that Emma finds herself embroiled in a conspiracy about her father’s death, which involves outspoken environmentalists and a swell in gang-related violence, led by a shifty character called The Scorpion (Ali Afshar).
Directed by Alex Ranarivelo, Pray for Rain starts as if it’s going to be a strong political statement, beginning with a clip from President Kennedy making a speech about the diversification of California water before jumping ahead to present day and attempts to shed light on the plight of the farmers in the area, who are, in the message of the film, being withheld their share of water for irrigation by regulations and environmental protection policies. It has led to a crumbling community of gang warfare, poverty and corruption, all of which has the investigator in Emma on alert, the movie spending more time with her in the trenches so to speak then with the issues.
There’s some good work though by the cast, with Seymour fired up and giving a highly impassioned turn as the frustrated widow Olivia, though the spotty relationship she has with Emma is only given cursory examination, despite sharing some good moments together. The movie has a lot to say about the water crisis and some of the bureaucracy that seems to have favored a fish over families, and while that is given some weight, it is eventually layered under Emma’s intrepid detectiving, with lots of scenes of her digging into the story and turning the focus away from the people involved. There’s a conspiracy at play, and it’s admittedly well-intentioned in uncovering it but the movie sacrifices the victims for the investigation.
Ambitious for sure, Pray For Rain can’t maintain the momentum it starts with, pitting Emma against a less-than-intimidating villain who never establishes himself with the menace needed. Playing out with the same intensity of a television drama, there’s plenty here at least in generating some interest in the plight of those trying to deal with no water and everything that entails because of it, yet there’s not much driving it forward.
Movie description: Pray For Rain is a 2017 drama about a journalist who returns to the California farming community where she was raised only to find it has been ravaged by drought and has become a place ruled by gangs.
Director(s): Alex Ranarivelo
Actor(s): Jane Seymour, Annabelle Stephenson, Nicholas Gonzalez