Written and Directed by Eric Owen
Produced by Eric Owen and Josh Taylor
Unrated, 1hr 38m
When I preview a film for the purpose of reviewing it, I seek out its redeeming qualities. Whether or not I enjoy a film is no indication of what others will think of it. I actively look for things that struck me and focus on those points in the hopes of speaking to the audience for whom those things are of interest.
Watching Thirst, however, I found myself struggling to find anything positive to write about.
Out on digital formats as of September 5th, Thirst tells the story of what happens to a small community when some anonymous “big pharma” leaks meth into the tap water. This isn’t readily apparent as the movie begins and takes too long to be revealed. In the lead-up to this reveal, the characters prove their ineptitude at making conscientious decisions, so even once they understand they have been consuming tap-water meth, they lack the ability to recognize this as a cause for their prior actions.
There are four main characters. The first couple is Jose and Lucy, played respectively by Brian Villalobos and Lori Kovacevich. The second couple is Lisa and Vicky, played respectively by Stephanie Slayton and Frederica Estaba Rangel. While the acting was certainly adequate, the interactions between these characters made it difficult to find anything redeemable. Jose and Lucy are married and trying to have a baby. He hasn’t slept in days, and we see him constantly drinking water from a gigantic metal bottle. Lucy is concerned by his lack of sleep, and the conflict this creates makes it difficult to believe they should be considering a child, much less staying together.
Lisa and Vicky have similar strife; one cheats on the other and they separate. Their separation doesn’t drive the plot in any way except to add a modicum of tension when one of them discovers the meth connection on a conspiracy website and tries to tell the other. They get together to warn Jose and Lucy, and it is at this point that the movie takes a turn.
Up until this point, the movie has been establishing the characters, how they know one another and how they interact. There’s always tension in the scenes, but rarely is it necessary for the progression of the story. It’s more like they’re irritated to be around one another. Some of the neighbors are already quite crazy. While water-guzzling Jose is an insomniac, one has to assume their lunatic neighbor must be drinking from a firehose to achieve the concentration of meth to so deeply affect him. There are plenty of other background characters who are similarly deranged. We meet none of them prior to their fall into insanity, so the changes in behavior are not calculable. Jose reacts to a secretary manically taking a printer apart with curiosity rather than the expected shock, as though this is a normal Tuesday at the office. There is no empathy spared on these background characters. Their suffering leaves them to function like carnival-ride automatons whose only purpose is to create atmosphere.
There’s one other sub-plot revealed prior to the meth revelation, and this is to establish the story’s villain. Dom, played by P. Michael Hayes II, is the boyfriend of a friend of both couples, and it is established that he abuses her. When she comes to Jose and Lucy for help after one particularly brutal beating, she overdoses that same night. Her purpose was to establish that Dom is bad and, that job done, she has served her purpose and is conveniently removed from the story. Her body disappears later that morning. Perhaps the police came and went, seeing nothing unusual. Perhaps she had been abducted by aliens.
Suddenly fearing the tap water, the foursome are shocked to learn that all the bottled water is sold out, having been stockpiled by everyone else who learned the water was contaminated. This must be some odd alternative universe where other beverages haven’t been invented. No one looks for cola or juice or even an energy drink. They lament their surprise that people would hoard water during a water-related crisis. Rather than using their phones to look up how to purify water, Jose’s plan is to drink his own urine.
When the insane neighbor again shows up, breaking into the house and attacking Jose in a deranged request for money, Jose beats him up. Lucy berates Jose for his violence as though this crazy neighbor wasn’t violently threatening them. As though they need motivation to escape the suburbs besides contaminated drinking water, the crazy neighbor offers violence as another excuse. Again, this tension serves no good purpose. If anything, it shines a light on Jose and Lucy’s relationship. That she would criticize her husband for defending them only makes her seem unaware or uncaring of their predicament.
When a source of fresh water is discovered—a pond—they take off and camp there. By the morning, not only are there dozens of other campers who stealthily arrived under the cover of night, but the evil Dom arrives with his henchfriend and a gun. He now owns the lake and anyone who wants access to water must pay them with cash or sexual favors.
The foursome devises a plan to steal gas from evil Dom so they can drive to another lake. For whatever reason, buying gas isn’t an option. Perhaps gasoline, like drinking water now has meth in it? Pretending to willingly offer sexual favors to the baddies, the three women become a distraction as Jose syphons gasoline from nearby cars. He becomes ill from apparently not spitting out enough of the gasoline. Lucy manages to get the baddie’s gun and kills both the evil Dom and his henchfriend. Instead of now ruling the lake and democratizing access to water, they flee in fear for their lives. It seems they think their actions went too far. Perhaps they think the other campers—who now have safe access to drinking water—will turn on them. Or something. Perhaps they’re worried the police will finally show up to find society has collapsed without safe drinking water and accuse them of murder. Clearly, the meth-water is still affecting their heads.
And this is where the screen fades to black. The warning “protect our drinking water” comes onto the screen to announce that this entire film has been a “PSA” to warn the public about what will happen to society if our drinking water is compromised and there are no other sources of fluids.
Thirst is a movie loaded with problems. Even if forgiven for the plot-holes—no other consumable fluids, no law enforcement, the evidence of craziness in so many background characters—the story suffered many significant flaws. Every scene came pre-loaded with unnecessary tension. Now, every scene should have tension in it. Conflict is what drives a story and makes it interesting. But the tension hardly related to the story. People are merely irritated by one another. Sure, they learn to get along when their world falls apart, but this wasn’t a character arc so much as it was necessity. No one learned they were being obnoxious. The villainous boyfriend and henchfriend were completely cliché in both their rise to power and downfall. Finally, the foursome of friends were completely uninteresting. Removing any two of them would not have impacted the story. It took too long to establish the crisis and the side plots that were supposed to offer clues and provide substance to the plot ended up acting as distraction as the characters they introduce serve no purpose except to deliver a line or two that could have been uttered by anyone.
I hate writing bad reviews. I don’t believe anyone sets out to create a bad film. I don’t know the details about how or why Thirst was made, if there were budgetary issues that resulted in cuts to the script or story. I only know the final product. And from the first scene to the last, the plot of Thirst could not hold water.