Review: ‘Fear of Rain,’ starring Katherine Heigl, Madison Iseman, Israel Broussard and Harry Connick Jr.

March 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Katherine Heigl, Madison Iseman and Harry Connick Jr. in “Fear of Rain” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Fear of Rain”

Directed by Castille Landon

Culture Representation: Taking place in Tampa, Florida, the horror film “Fear of Rain” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A schizophrenic teenage girl in high school becomes convinced that a neighbor (who also happens to be one of her schoolteachers) has kidnapped a young girl and is holding her captive in the neighbor’s house.

Culture Audience: “Fear of Rain” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching tame horror movies that have a lot of missteps and dumb endings.

Eugenie Bondurant and Madison Iseman in “Fear of Rain” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Stop if you’ve already heard this idea for a horror movie. A young female (usually blonde, usually pretty) begins to wonder if she’s going crazy because she’s convinced there’s a killer on the loose and she might be the next target. It’s a concept that’s been overdone to the point of it being a bad cliché. But that didn’t stop writer/director Castille Landon from recycling this concept and making the lackluster and unimpressive horror flick “Fear of Rain,” which has an ending that is truly moronic.

The cast members of “Fear of Rain” seem to be trying to make the best out of a terrible script. And the film’s cinematography, production design, musical score and other technical production elements are adequate. But all of that is not enough to improve the movie’s overall substandard direction.

It’s a repetitive slog of teenage schizophrenic protagonist Rain Burroughs (played by Madison Iseman) trying to convince people that things she’s seen are not part of her mental illness. The scares in this horror movie are basic and not very original. And the movie bungles a potentially good mystery with an almost laughable showdown and a bunch of nonsense that leave major questions unanswered by the end of the film.

Taking place in Tampa, Florida, “Fear of Rain” opens with a scene of Rain (who’s about 16 or 17 years old) being chased through the woods at night by a hoodie-wearing man whose face is obscured. He grabs her by the legs, drags her, and ties her hands and legs with belts. Then he buries Rain in a shallow grave. But when he leaves, she’s able to climb out of the grave.

It turns out that this horrific experience is just a nightmare that Rain is having while she’s strapped to a gurney in a hospital. While she’s restrained, a hospital attendant injects an unidentified drug into Rain’s arm to calm her down. Get used to this “it was only a nightmare” trickery when watching “Fear of Rain” because this dumb movie has plenty of it.

Rain’s worried parents are in the room with her as she’s getting sedated. Even though Rain is clearly mentally disturbed, her parents Michelle Burroughs (played by Katherine Heigl) and John Burroughs (played by Harry Connick Jr.) ignore all advice to put Rain in a psychiatric facility. It’s unclear how long Rain has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic, but most schizophrenics start showing symptoms in adolescence.

Dr. Ellen Pangloss (played by Enuka Okuma), the hospital psychiatrist who evaluates Rain, tells her that Rain’s “episodes get increasingly worse each time you go off your meds.” Rain tells the doctor that her meds “make me feel like a zombie. I can’t paint and I can’t feel anything.”

Dr. Pangloss is empathetic, but she warns Rain: “One more misstep and the state is going to institutionalize you.” What exactly has made Rain so dangerous to herself or society? The movie never really explains, but there are some hints throughout the story.

When she’s back at home with her parents, Rain (who is an only child) hesitantly goes in her bedroom, which looks like someone trashed the place. She has a flashback to the meltdown that she had in the bedroom, where she got so violent that her father had to physically restrain her. It’s implied that this incident is what landed her in the hospital.

Rain’s father John tells her that he has plans to clean up her bedroom, but in the meantime, Rain can stay in one of the house’s spare rooms. Both of her parents lecture Rain about how important it is for her to keep taking her medication. Rain’s mother Michelle has a more disciplinary attitude about it than her father does. But there comes a time when even John loses his patience with Rain.

Rain likes to paint portraits as a hobby. She’s shown spending some mother-daughter bonding time with Michelle, whose portrait Rain has painted. At home, Rain is fairly obedient and the only thing she rebels against her parents about is taking her medication. Rain agrees to start taking her meds again because she knows it’s possible that she could be involuntarily put in an psychiatric institution if she has another psychotic break.

At school, Rain is a loner and an outcast. Students gossip about her behind her back. When she returns to school and is near the lockers in the hallway, Rain accidentally drops a medication bottle and all of her pills spill out on the floor. Some students stare at her with mild disgust or ridicule as an embarrassed Rain picks up the pills from the floor.

And the movie predictably has a “mean girls” scene, where Rain tries to sit down next to some girls in the school cafeteria, but they won’t let her. Rain then goes outside to eat by herself, and she’s approached by a fellow student named Caleb (played by Israel Broussard), who strikes up a friendly conversation with her. Caleb and Rain have never met before, but he seems to know who she is.

Caleb asks Rain if she wants to play tarot cards with him. It’s an unusual way for a teenage guy to approach someone, but Rain doesn’t mind thinking that Caleb could be an oddball because he is kind and respectful to her. You know where this is going, of course. Caleb becomes Rain’s love interest. However, she’s afraid to tell him that she’s schizophrenic.

Meanwhile, Rain has a teacher at school named Dani McConnell (played by Eugenie Bondurant), who seems happy to have Rain return to her class. It’s hinted at but not described in detail that Rain and Dani had a past altercation (which is not shown in the movie) where Rain physically assaulted Dani, who filed a complaint but decided not to press charges. It’s one of the violent incidents that’s part of Rain’s troubled history that could be used against her if she’s involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution.

When Rain and Dani have a moment alone, Dani expresses that she genuinely wants Rain to have a healthy recovery, and they should move forward from any differences they might have had in the past. Rain seems to want the same thing. But when Rain is at a drugstore, viewers see that Dani is there too. And unbeknownst to Rain, Dani is staring at Rain in a very creepy way.

You know what that means. Rain and Dani are going to have some type of conflict again. One night, shortly after Rain and Dani have their “reconciliation” talk at school, Rain sees something very disturbing from her bedroom window: The house across the street has a girl, who’s about 5 or 6 years old, trapped in the attic. Rain sees the girl yelling for help at the attic window before a shadowy unidentified adult snatches the girl away.

And guess who lives in that house across the street? Rain’s teacher Dani. And why is it suspicious that Dani would have a child in her attic? Because Dani is a spinster who lives alone and almost never has visitors.

Rain is so freaked out by what she saw that she tells her father and insists that they go immediately to Dani’s house to investigate. John is very reluctant because he thinks that what Rain saw was probably a schizophrenic hallucination. But she tells her father that she wasn’t imagining things, so they go over to Dani’s house.

Dani is calm when answering the door. John apologetically tells her that he and Rain have stopped by to check if everything was okay because Rain saw someone in the attic. Dani willingly shows them her attic, which is filled with dolls. Dani explains that her grandmother made these dolls by hand, and the dolls were passed on as an inheritance to Dani.

Dani also says that she hasn’t been in the attic in several years. Rain looks at the attic window and notices that there are fingerprints in the dust on the window. As John and Rain look around the attic, they don’t see anyone else there. Rain wants to search the rest of the house, but an embarrassed John tells Rain that it won’t be necessary. He apologizes to Dani for disturbing her. And then he and Rain leave.

When Rain gets home, she and John have a big argument. She’s certain that Dani is lying because Rain said that in the attic, she saw a 2018 almanac, which contradicts what Dani said about not being in the attic for several years. Viewers have to assume that this story takes place within a few years of 2018. John doesn’t think that the almanac is enough proof.

John yells at Rain, “There’s no one up there! It’s your mind playing tricks against you! Please stay away from that house! If she files another complaint, the state is going to put you in the hospital!”

Meanwhile, Rain continues to have nightmares that take place the woods. In one such dream, a group of people in the woods stare at a painting of Rain that comes to life. And the movie shows another scene in the woods where maggots come out of someone’s hands. These are very mild scares and don’t add anything to the story, especially when viewers find out how the movie ends.

At school, Rain is now terrified of being near Dani. When Rain accidentally bumps into Dani in the hallway, Rain’s horrified reaction is as if she bumped into a serial killer. And at some point in the story, Rain finds out some things that convince her that Dani kidnaps and murders children.

Meanwhile, Rain and Caleb become closer. Rain confides in him about her suspicions of Dani, while continuing to keep her own schizophrenia a secret from Caleb. The Caleb character is basically a retread of the nerdy and nice boyfriend character that Broussard has in the “Happy Death Day” horror movies, where he also plays the loyal believer of the young and pretty protagonist who has visions of crimes that other people say are delusions.

Caleb has a few odd quirks (he doesn’t have a cell phone and he’s unusually fascinated with tarot cards), but he’s supportive of Rain and he tries to keep an open mind when she tells him things that sound very far-fetched. Rain convinces Caleb to go to a local library with her to help her look up missing kids nationwide to see if they can identify the girl whom Rain says she saw in the attic window. They find a photo of a missing girl from another state named Malia Robinson (played by Hudson Rodgers), and Rain is convinced it’s the same girl.

Even when Rain starts to act more paranoid, Caleb is patient with her, but he does express some skepticism when Rain begins to sound really crazy. At school, when Rain sees some cops on campus, she crouches down behind a car and tells Caleb to do the same to hide from the cops. Why? Because she says the cops are looking for her.

Things really go downhill from there, as Caleb and Rain try to play detective and further investigate (translation: spy on) Dani. And then, there’s an asinine plot manipulation where Rain begins to wonder if Caleb is real or in her imagination. Viewers who make it through watching “Fear of Rain” until the horrible end will wish it wasn’t a reality that they wasted time watching this entire messy garbage pile of a movie.

Lionsgate released “Fear of Rain” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 12, 2021.

Review: ‘Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music,’ starring Terence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis, the Neville Brothers, Harry Connick Jr., Irma Thomas, Robert Plant and Keith Richards

May 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Terence Blanchard (far right) and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in “Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music” (Photo courtesy of Eagle Rock Entertainment)

“Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music”

Directed by Michael Murphy

Culture Representation: The documentary “Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music” interviews a racially diverse (African Americans and white people) group of people, including musicians, concert promoters, journalists and music historians.

Culture Clash: The impact of slavery and other forms of racism have shaped the music of New Orleans.

Culture Audience: “Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music” will appeal mostly to people with diverse musical tastes, as well as people who want to learn more about the cultural history of New Orleans.

Allen Toussaint in “Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music” (Photo courtesy of Eagle Rock Entertainment)

Making a documentary about the entire history of music in New Orleans is a very ambitious project, especially if it’s edited into a feature-length film instead of being spread out into an episodic series. But writer/director/producer Michael Murphy has crafted a definitive chronicle of New Orleans music in a film with an impressive range that’s as entertaining as it is educational. Grammy-winning musician Terence Blanchard (one of the documentary’s executive producers) narrates this 104-minute film, which features a “who’s who” of people who are part of New Orleans music history or are connected to it in some way.

In addition to Blanchard, musicians interviewed in the documentary include Big Freedia, Germaine Bazzle, Jon Cleary, Harry Connick Jr., DJ Raj Smoove, Mannie Fresh, Steve Gadd, Leroy Jones, Dave Malone (of the Radiators), Branford Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Jason Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, PJ Morton, Aaron Neville, Art Neville, Charmaine Neville, Ivan Neville, Robert Plant, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, Herlin Riley, Alfred “Uganda” Roberts, Reggie Scanlon (of the Radiators), Sting, Bill Summers, Irma Thomas, Reggie Toussaint, Don Vappie, Walter Washington and Dr. Michael White.

Other talking heads in the documentary include Quint Davis, CEO of Festival Productions Inc. New Orleans; Preservation Hall creative director Ben Jaffe; Hogan Jazz Archive curator emeritus Bruce Raeburn; Black Top Records co-founder Hammond Scott; audio engineer Roberta Grace; Center for the Study of the American South associate director William Ferris; and journalists Arthel Neville (daughter of Art Neville) and Alan Light.

Interspersed through the documentary are live performances that are exclusive to the film, from artists such as Blanchard performing with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band; Dr. Michael White and the Original Liberty Jazz Band; a duet with Aaron and Ivan Neville; influential R&B diva Thomas; the Neville Brothers; the Radiators; and Dumpstaphunk.

The film took several years to make, since some of the interviews took place in 2004, according the film’s production notes. And some of the footage filmed for the documentary is of people who have since passed away, such as Art Neville and Dr. John, who both died in 2019.

The movie takes a mostly chronological look at the history of New Orleans music, starting with how the brutality of slavery led to African American slaves developing their own form of music that became the foundation of jazz and the blues, which later influenced the creation of rock and roll, soul/R&B, funk and hip-hop. At times, during the documentary, narrator Blanchard gives a tour to some of the historical sites of New Orleans music, such as the Dew Drop Inn, J&M Recording Studio and the Black Pearl neighborhood that’s known for giving rise to Mahalia Jackson. The Tremé neighborhood (also known as the Cradle of Jazz) is mentioned frequently in the film, since New Orleans is the city that gets the most credit for being the birthplace of jazz.

Several influential New Orleans musicians are given praise and credit for making New Orleans an outstanding music city. Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Louis Prima, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Earl Palmer, singer Thomas, Allen Toussaint, Professor Longhair, Dr. John, James Booker, the Neville Brothers, the Marsalis family and Earl King all get special mentions in the film.

In the beginning of the film, Blanchard visits St. Augustine Church, established in 1841 as the oldest African American Catholic parish in the United States. He points out how the outer pews were purchased/reserved for slaves by free people of color so that the slaves would not be shunned at the church services. “Growing up in the church, I have always believed you could never separate spirituality from creativity,” Blanchard says.

Sting (whose first band as a solo artist included Branford Marsalis and other musicians with a jazz background) comments: “New Orleans seems to have a complexity about it that other American cities lack, maybe because of the history built on the tragedy of human trafficking. Let’s be honest about that. But what was created out of that—jazz, the blues—is something that the whole human race should be grateful for. It’s not to be an apologist for that tragedy, but at the same time, it’s amazing how resilient the human spirit is.”

Wynton Marsalis notes that when the slave owners allowed Africans to play drums in Congo Square during the years when slavery was legal, this artistic freedom had an enormous impact on the music culture in New Orleans: “The fact that a slave could be free on a Sunday afternoon for five hours [to play music] made [New Orleans] different from the United States of America. That expression of freedom still echoes.”

Preservation Hall director Jaffe, whose parents founded the world-famous venue, says that New Orleans multiculturalism of Europe (especially France and Spain), Africa and the Caribbean (especially Cuba) is reflected in the melting pot of musical styles that have thrived in New Orleans. The documentary includes a segment on how the drumming styles in New Orleans also affected the rhythms that distinguished New Orleans jazz (or Dixieland jazz) from jazz in other areas of the United States.

Jazz is the most famous type of music to come out of New Orleans, so it’s the music genre that gets most of the screen time in the first half of the documentary. The concept of an instrumental solo in jazz is largely credited to influential jazz musicians such as Armstrong and Morton. Connick says: “New Orleans jazz music will never die, because the feeling we get as performers who play it is the greatest drug in the world.”

The documentary also mentions New Orleans was one of the first big cities in the U.S. that established an opera house, due in large part to composer/pianist Gottschalk, one of the first American musicians to become a star in Europe in the mid-1800s. And the influence of Cuban music in New Orleans also gets its own segment in the documentary.

“Up From the Streets” also addresses how sexism affected female artists who were part of the early New Orleans music scene. Traditionally, women performers were usually allowed to only be singers or piano players. But slowly, the barriers started to open up during the Jazz Age, when bands started to accept women in other roles besides as a vocalist or pianist.

Singer/bass player Bazzle comments on the gender barrier faced by female musicians in New Orleans: “There was a line until we started doing it [crossing the line].” She adds there’s nothing about musical instruments that say only one gender can play those instruments, but there used to be a mentality that women couldn’t play certain instruments—a sexist belief that wasn’t unique to New Orleans but it affected the opportunities that women had in the New Orleans music scene’s earliest decades.

Branford Marsalis remembers how tough his parents, especially his late mother Dolores, used to be when it came to demanding excellence from her musical children. However, he says, “I appreciated having stern parents.” And he says that his parents would constantly remind the Marsalis children about how fortunate they were to benefit from the civil-rights movement and to not take it for granted.

The movie also notes that although New York City is the birthplace of rap/hip-hop, there’s a New Orleans hip-hop scene that really began to thrive in the 1990s with Master P, Birdman, Mystikal and Juvenile, and has continued in the 21st century with Lil Wayne, Big Freedia and the “bounce” craze. However, in its coverage of New Orleans music artists who are influential in the 21st century, the documentary makes one glaring omission, by failing to mention Frank Ocean.

As for people outside the U.S. who are influenced by New Orleans music, British musicians are among the most enthusiastic. Plant says that he and his former Led Zeppelin bandmates Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were “obsessed with the music of New Orleans, so we always made it our business to ensure that when we were on tour, we came to New Orleans. It’s just about the quality of music that I could relate to and just how it really had such a profound effect.” In the documentary, Plant also cites Allen Toussaint as one of his favorite musicians, which is why Plant and Alison Krauss’ 2007 Grammy-winning duet album “Raising Sand” included a cover version of Toussaint’s “Fortune Teller.”

Rolling Stones guitarist Richards praises Earl Palmer (who worked with dozens of artists, including Little Richard and Sam Cooke) as a “real rock and roll drummer. A lot of drummers since then have been able to rock, but very few that have been able to put the roll in.” Richards also says of Ivan Neville (son of Aaron Neville), who’s worked with Richards on several of Richards’ solo projects: “I feel like his older brother or an uncle. I’ve seen him go through a lot of difficulties and pain and seen him come out of it.”

Aaron Neville says of the origins of the Neville Brothers as a musical act: “One thing our parents always wanted was to see all of us together. In New York, we got to go in the studio with the Meters. We didn’t rehearse anything. We already knew what their part was, and it just came out naturally. And we decided to do the Neville Brothers from then on.”

And, of course, one of New Orleans’ hallmarks is that it’s very common for big bands to perform in the middle of streets and have Second Line parades. Morton and Jaffe remembers that one of the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was how the city of New Orleans was like a ghost town deprived of street music for a long period of time before the recovery from the hurricane.

Davis, whose Festival Productions produces the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (also known as Jazz Fest), talks about how JazzFest in 2006—the first Jazz fest after Hurricane Katrina—was an example of how music helped bring New Orleans heal from hurricane disaster. The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music (which opened in 2011) was also founded as a result of helping New Orleans rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

However, some of the people interviewed, including Wynton Marsalis and Mannie Fresh, note that although music can bring people together in New Orleans, after a concert or performance ends, people often go back to living racially segregated lives in the city. Despite the city’s problems, New Orleans has a unique culture that’s been able to thrive largely because of the music. And as Blanchard says in the film, much of New Orleans’ strength comes from “the power of music, the power that it has to change hearts and minds … The most important thing is that it’s not over. This is not the end of the story.”

Eagle Rock Entertainment released “Up From the Street: New Orleans: The City of Jazz” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on May 15, 2020. A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s Jazz & Heritage Music Relief Fund, a statewide relief initiative supporting Louisiana musicians who have lost income amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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