Liam is a young man living in the Welsh coastal town where he grew up. He spends his days drinking with his friends and racing his motorbike, wishing he could escape the small town. He helps his dad Glenn run a caravan park, but Glenn refuses to see that the park is failing. Instead, Glenn sinks more time and resources into it, in the hopes that it will begin making money again soon.
But after an inspection reveals that the land they own is worthless, thanks to rising sea levels, Liam tries desperately to convince his dad to abandon his lifelong home. But Glenn is stubborn as well, and father and son clash over what to do, leading to desperate measures by Liam in an attempt to make his father see the truth.
Directed and co-written by Dan Thorburn, this short drama can be, on the surface, as quiet and pastoral as the beautiful, stark Welsh coastline that makes up its setting. Shot with a visual style that's as raw and visceral as the experiences that Liam craves, there's both poetry and desolation to this corner of the world, full of both beauty and loneliness. Within this milieu, a restless young man like Liam raises hell, looking to bust out of the confines of his life but held back by his familial obligations to his more retiring father, who doesn't want to leave the waves and winds of the coastline.
The storytelling focuses on the contrast and clash between these two characters, bonded together by love, stasis and obligation. Like the characters, the pacing interweaves moments of quiet with bursts of raw, almost violent energy, alternating between scenes of each man alone. Liam bursts with pent-up fire and energy as he rides his bike and carouses with friends; Glenn is weighed down with sadness and often confusion as he contemplates the sea that is eating away at his way of life and livelihood. When they come together, their conversation is terse and tense, revealing the growing gulf between them.
With a narrative focused on character and relationships, the film rests on two powerful performances by actors Owen Teale and Tom Glynn-Carney as Glenn and Liam, respectively. Audiences know Teale as Alliser Thorne from Game of Thrones, and he brings similar harsh volatility to his portrayal of Glenn, though it's shaded with a melancholic attachment to the land and sea that he doesn't want to leave behind. His performance also has sympathetic hints of self-doubt and denial, as well as a harsh judgment of Liam that creeps into his interactions with his son. Glynn-Carney captures Liam's own more openly expressed volatility, as well as growing frustration with a stubborn, deluded father. He's a powderkeg of a character, set to explode. It's inevitable that he does, with tragic consequences.
Compelling and finely crafted, "Salt Water Town" has both the poetic quality of great naturalistic cinema, finding the richness in everyday life and struggle. But it also has the fatalism of Greek tragedy, as two generations of men in one family clash over their future. The scale may seem small compared to the kings and gods of classical Greek literature, but the emotions and the quiet devastation following irreversible decisions are not. As father and son face the wreckage of their life together, everything has changed for them, individually and as a family. Their future is unknown, but like the ending event that concludes the film, it promises a fate both tragic and inexorable.