With his first two feature films, Young Islands and Different Drum, writer/director Kevin Cheneault crafted stark, intimate stories that simultaneously felt very heartland and very universal. With Lattie, his latest film, Cheneault again returns to the American heartland to tell the story of Lattie, played by Cheneault, a struggling laborer who is diagnosed with a terminal illness while simultaneously being sought by a couple of unknown assailants and a local police officer after having allegedly witnessed a violent crime. With surreal lapses of time increasingly making his life more difficult, Lattie faces that which seems inevitable in ways that are sad, desperate, exhilarating and illuminating.
Lattie is a mystery of sorts, though the mystery feels like more of a personal one than your usual crime mystery/thriller. I'd almost call it more of an interpersonal mystery that weaves together Lattie's attempts to somehow build a bridge toward his family, including his involved yet distant sister (played quite beautifully by Audrey Hillyer) and other family members who will likely seem awfully familiar for anyone watching the film. The crime itself, while essential to the story, feels more like the trigger that inspires Lattie to do all that unfolds in the 66-minute feature film.
As always seems to be true with Cheneault's films, the production quality here works perfectly within the framework that Cheneault has created for the film. D.P. Eddy Scully builds the film's suspense while never letting go of its intimacy, while Ubi Escalona's original composition is atmospheric and isolative. Designing her first film set, Emily McArdle's design creates an almost aching sense of the isolation and disconnect experienced by Lattie and nearly everyone who walks through the film. Kudos must be given, as well, to Ben Huff and Richard Breivogel, who've successfully faced the challenge of cerating effective sound within the limited means of a low-budget indie.
Then, of course, there's Cheneault himself. While the decision to cast oneself in a low-budget indie can often be simply attributed to a budgetary decision, the truth is that it works immeasurably here. Cheneault captures Lattie's quiet desperation meets resignation meets determination. There's both a cultural and an interpersonal isolation going on in Lattie and the real mystery may be just how much peace Lattie can find within himself and the world around him as everything unfolds.
There are numerous scenes in Lattie that are quietly effective, actors and actresses who make brief appearances yet leave indelible impacts such as a young woman who finds Lattie having blacked out in a park and, on more than one occasion, a little girl whose mesmerizing presence may be one of the film's greatest gifts.
Lattie has a comfortable place with Cheneault's other films, yet it also feels like a step forward in Cheneault's writing and filmmaking. Filmed over 2 1/2 weeks in Evansville, Indiana, Lattie is just beginning its cinematic life and should have no problem finding life on both the indie fest circuit and with an indie distributor.