SXSW 2018: PET NAMES Deserves a Treat

The Wisconsin woods is a great place to work through issues.

The 2018 edition of the SXSW Conference and Festivals is here, and the Cinapse team is on the ground, covering all things film.

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A parent dealing with a serious illness. A relationship with an ex-boyfriend. Camping. All of these life events are cause for drama, but in Pet Names, they are taken in stride. Until they aren’t.

A collaboration between writer/star Meredith Johnston and director Carol Brandt, Pet Names tells the story of Leigh, a young woman with the specter of death in her home who just wants to go be in nature for a weekend.

As a seemingly last minute lark, she invites Cam (Rene Cruz) to join her, in spite of the fact they they used to be lovers. Or is it because of that fact? Regardless, the two pack up the car (and the pug) and hit the road.

Leaning on Brandt’s Milwaukee roots, the bulk of the story takes place in rural Wisconsin, at a campground full of people, bugs, and unresolved issues. Actually the latter they brought themselves, as an amiable trip turns sour when Leigh and Cam realize they can’t gloss over their history.

Johnston as both writer and lead actor turns out to be a nice combination; she plays Leigh with a distance and low-key affect that keeps the story grounded in spite of conflict just under the surface. While it’s obvious she loves her mom and is happy to take care of her in this dire medical situation, the two aren’t ever touchy-feely, an honest reaction to trying times.

With authentic writing and compelling characters, Pet Names takes a hard situation and treats it with grace and dignity. Life can be a challenge, and sometimes what’s needed is a little escape. Some time in the great outdoors might be just the thing.

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