Mermaids' Lament (2023)

Director: G.B. Hajim

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Starring: Dayva Summer Escobar, Justina Mattos, Michael Gregory, Owen Costello, Steve Blum

As more films utilize underwater sequences to convey an astounding world beneath the sea, the least which could be done is to make those scenes visually appealing. While Avatar: The Way of Water delivered gorgeous scenes, it feels worlds away from the murky colours of 2023's The Little Mermaid and the barely visible sequences in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Thank goodness writer/director G.B. Hajim avoids such issues, as the aquatic scenes are when his sophomore feature shines the brightest.

The underwater photography allows the colours to burst alive, contrasting wonderfully with the dreary looking everyday-life unfolding above ground. This is seen when Oee (Dayva Summer Escobar) swims underwater amongst the ocean-life, before she awakens above water with memories of being caught in a net. Lost in an unfamiliar world, Oee insists that she is a mermaid to the helpful Dr. Nell Jamison (Justina Mattos). While grappling with anxiety, the psychiatrist tries to help the young woman leave behind her imagination and return to reality.

A cycle unfolds where Oee wishes to return to the water, the place she feels most at home in, while Nell tries to stop the young woman from drowning. One wishes this pattern felt less tiresome, as the lead duo are effective in their roles. Mattos effectively conveys the psychiatrists need to help, while requiring affirmation from self-help recordings that also spell out the film's themes. Acting opposite her is Escobar, who brings Oee alive with child-like wonder that sells how an umbrella is the most fascinating thing she has seen.

Such joy is dampened by the harm humanity commits to ocean-life, leaving her despondent over such a horrific reality where her beloved ocean is left polluted. The conflict of this feature feels rather routine, particularly during a heavy-handed sequence involving predatory men chasing Oee. Yet it leads to a compelling bond between the two women, as they find strength in each other which overcomes the language barriers they face.

Through this psychological drama steeped in magical realism and self-help philosophy, Hajim has created a story about leaving behind worries and daily issues courtesy of ocean therapy. It is clear that this is a movie the director wanted to make, rooted in issues about trauma and recovery.