The kind of cunning, sardonic psychological study that pays off in grim affirmation

REVIEW A semisequel to writer-director Eric Byler's 2002 debut feature, Charlotte Sometimes, this low-key but quietly devastating relationship meltdown in the mode of Harold Pinter and Neil LaBute is his best work to date. Tre (Daniel Cariaga) is a burly, shaved-headed, aggro personality who burns rubber driving drunk and reckless one night to the Santa Monica Mountains house of longtime bud Gabe (Erik McDowell) and his girlfriend, Kakela (Kimberly-Rose Wolter). On the run from yet another bridge burned, Tre's irked to find the guesthouse already occupied — by prickly Nina (Alix Koromzay), who has just left her husband. It's dislike at first sight for the two temporary residents: she's tightly wound, and he likes to push people's buttons for the hell of it. Yet in Byler and Wolter's screenplay, that negative spark doesn't at all preclude their ending up in bed — it might even hasten the event. Meanwhile, Tre embarks on an even more perverse path, playing on rudderless trust funder Kakela's self-doubts to seduce her away from the trusting, oblivious Gabe. Does this angry thirtysomething slacker antihero ("I reject the notion that a steady job makes me successful and a college degree makes me smart," he protests) simply see her as another female meal ticket? Is he really interested in her? Or is his agenda some complicated, half-acknowledged result of feelings of resentment and possessiveness toward his best friend? Tense and ambiguous, with sharp character detailing and explanatory background spaces left artfully blank, this is the kind of cunning, sardonic psychological study that pays off in grim affirmation of the worst suspicions about human nature. See it with someone you want to break up with.

TRE Opens Fri/15 at the Four Star Theater. See Movie Clock at sfbg.com

Also from this author

  • Con and on

    Thrilling, stylish Highsmith adaptation 'The Two Faces of January'

  • Cel mates

    Mill Valley Film Festival screens vintage and innovative animated features

  • Urban decay

    A family struggles to survive in crime drama 'Metro Manila'