Thirteen-year-old Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki) is spending the summer at a beach house lovingly built by her father, Ed (Alistair Browning). Her mother, Kate (Sarah Peirse), laments her fading beauty while soaking up booze and sunshine on the front lawn, a stone's throw away from the gentle tide. Janey frequently finds herself babysitting Jim (Aaron Murphy), her freckle-faced little brother, but as the summer wears on, her patience and good nature are replaced by hatred of her mother and a growing indifference to Jim.

The unwitting catalyst to the destruction of the family is a handsome, well-traveled photographer named Cady (Marton Csokas), who finds himself the object of Kate's desire during the nightly ritual of noisy parties, where the participants with the best bodies often strip and wander drunkenly into the surf. Janey observes her mother embracing Cady, but keeps the knowledge to herself, not wanting her father to suffer any more than he already has. When Cady photographs Kate, Janey insists in the willful, irrational manner of adolescents that he take her portrait, too. Cady is puzzled by the child's pursuit of him, which has less to do with building a portfolio than experimenting with sex...but this is one Lolita who will not be denied. And the consequences are lethal.

With Rain, first-time writer-director Christine Jeffs captures the destruction of a family with a blunt accuracy that never precludes a gift for the occasionally lyrical moment. The acting of all involved is striking, particularly Fulford-Wierzbicki, who gives the best performance by a child actress since Anna Paquin won an Oscar for The Piano. Unfortunately, the quality of the sound leaves something to be desired, and portions of the dialogue are too Kiwi-colloquial and muddled for American ears. Neil Finn's music is more intrusive than supportive, as if New Zealand's top ten melodies automatically have anything to do with the extremely subtle emotional nuances of the film. Also, too much of the time the songs interrupt the flow of the narrative, taking the audience out of the film rather than intensifying the impact of what is, without pop tunes, quite an impressive directorial debut.

--Bruce Feld