During a scorching hot summer in the South, Corbin and Whit explore an abandoned farm. When the two boys climb a bale of hay and horse around in the way that kids do, Whit falls from the bale and into a hidden pit below, overgrown with kudzu vines. Fearful and wondering if this is another one of Whit’s jokes, Corbin runs off, leaving Whit behind.
But Whit never returns and Corbin remains silent about what happened, scared of the repercussions. As Whit’s disappearance begins to deeply affect the people around him, Corbin must wrestle with his conscience and the increasing weight of his silence and shame.
Writer-director Connor Simpson’s thoughtful coming-of-age drama combines an earthy, exquisite visual beauty with storytelling focused on silence and hidden feelings, forming a portrait of a golden innocence slowly but inexorably pulled beneath an undertow of guilt and secrecy.
The writing is pared-down but sculpted with great care, as are the images — each shot possesses a poetic, sun-soaked quality, evocative of the sleepy, almost pastoral Southern setting, and the sound of the film is rich with details, from the spurts of a sprinkler to the hum of cicadas to the buzzing of hungry flies.
These rhythms infuse the editing and pacing, giving time and breathing room for viewers to take in the atmosphere of this world and its characters. As the narrative creeps forward, shadows seep in, as well as a haziness that subtly darkens the tone and feel of the film.
Dialogue may be sparse, but each line carries a resonant portent, as does each choice to stay silent, adding weight to Corbin’s anguish. As a result, the performances here become less about action and more about embodying states of being and mind. Young actor Jake Whipple accomplishes this well, with a fine degree of restraint and an ability to subtly shade the encroaching creep of guilt.
As the audience, we know Corbin should speak up about what he knows, and he knows this as well. And yet he can’t, with each hour miring him deeper in his dilemma. The discovery of Whit’s fate, too, is a question mark, though it never drives the drama, which remains focused on Corbin. When the situation finally unravels in full, Corbin must essentially leave his childhood behind as he wrestles with the full weight of his actions.
Taking inspiration from the namesake vines of its title, “Kudzu” is a finely wrought portrait of how the darkest recesses of shame, guilt and silence come to the surface, no matter how much we try to ignore these difficult feelings or push them down.
But there is also a modicum of hope for Corbin, and for anyone else who wrestles with profound anguish about the repercussions of a life-altering choice. In the end, it also reveals the gift of compassion and forgiveness — a redemption that allows us to face the fallout of our failings and find some degree of acceptance, and maybe eventually peace.