Two things you never mess with—Texas, and a wayward son looking to claim some paternal dues. Both figure prominently in this psychodrama about a sailor (Bernal) fresh out of the Navy who heads to the Lone Star State to find the Pops he never knew. There’s just a teensy-weensy problem: Dad (Hurt), a family man and celebrity on the neon evangelical circuit, isn’t too happy to see his sinnin’ past show up on his doorstep. So the rejected young man does what anyone in his situation would do, i.e., seduce his half sister (James), help his half brother (Paul Dano) “disappear,” and slowly insinuate himself into the clan. Only this bastard-child Boudu can’t be saved from drowning in his own longing and repressed rage.
Best known as the director of the haunting, ethereal mood piece Wisconsin Death Trip (1999), James Marsh specializes in mining uneasiness from everyday Americana, and the best moments of this parable are seen in his eerie tableaux of Texan suburbia. Who knew that a cathedral’s LED cross could evoke such dread? But the atmospherics can’t smooth over the slack narrative, especially when the material starts channeling Pasolini’s Teorema via Flannery O’Connor during the final act. Even Bernal and Hurt’s admirable turns are checkmated by some serious abuses of symbolism (memo to Marsh: Gutted deer and wild white horses are a wee bit heavy-handed). As a twisted take on family values, The King brings the darkness; as a tragedy, it simply can’t find its way home. (Opens Fri; Landmark Sunshine.)—David Fear