SXSW: Pet Names

Leigh’s life revolves around caregiving. Her mother is sick and her death is slow. Slow, slow, slow, like watching a corpse decompose above ground. Leigh needs a break but her mother is obviously not in any shape to take vacation…so she invites her ex-boyfriend instead.

Leigh (Meredith Johnston) and Cam (Rene Cruz) dated for a long time, and it becomes apparent on this camping trip that their ends are pretty jagged. I mean, let’s just take a MV5BYzE5ZTJjZjEtYjJlOS00YmU0LWJkZWYtYWE1MDJkNDcwMWVhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjYzNzU5MDI@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_breather for a minute and think about whether you’d be willing to go camping with your ex. Me? Hahahaha, no. Of course, I don’t want to camp with anyone, ever, because camping is awful. But I wouldn’t go on a luxury vacation with them either. Or for a 12 minute coffee. I’m a mover-oner.

Leigh and Cam? I’m not sure they’re ready to move on, but they’ve got a lot of baggage between them and no amount of fireside whiskey is going to make it disappear. Plus, Leigh is a different person now. She’s experiencing grief and loss and it’s changing her. Maybe Cam doesn’t know her anymore. Did he ever?

Pet Names has lovely cinematography (the kind of camera trickery that might actually make camping seem like a good idea). It also has a thoughtful script, penned by Meredith Johnston herself. It’s no wonder she seems so comfortable in her character’s skin. She and Cruz have the kind of chemistry that’s believable between two people who’ve seen each other naked but aren’t supposed to anymore. Director Carol Brandt gets to the meat of this, eagerly having them confront old wounds that are not past bleeding. The camping trip may look beautiful, but with so much to unpack, it’s clear this getaway will be anything but restorative.


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