Beware La Barracuda

A murder ballad comes to life in this Austin thriller

Music legacies run deep in this town, and local filmmaking duo Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund (Now, Forager) knew the only way to cast the perfect choice for their lead meant hiring a legitimate musician, regardless of her origin. "We're Austin filmmakers, and we wanted to bring Austin musicians into the project, so we fought really hard to make sure anyone we cast in that role could really sing and play guitar," says co-director and writer Jason Cortlund.

British actor Sophie Reid (Game of Thrones, Disney's upcoming Beauty and the Beast) was cast from a pool of over 500 candidates for the main role. In La Barracuda, Sinaloa strolls into Austin, not unlike a character from the centuries-old murder ballads she hauntingly croons over a campfire with a beat-up guitar. The twentysomething Brit is in search of her long-lost older half-sister, Merle (Allison Tolman, Fargo). Their shared paternal bloodline stems from a late traveling musician, and the younger sister is supposedly the only one who knows about his secret second family abroad. Set against a backdrop of Austin scenery, the music flows freely as the plot thickens.

Cortlund explains the soundtrack is an eclectic mix, curated by local singer-songwriter Colin Gilmore, a second-generation Austin musician, and son of Jimmie Dale Gilmore. "Some of the songs are traditional murder ballads that came from the exact part of England where Sinaloa comes from, the south of England, where 'Pretty Polly' was written in the 18th century." Gilmore curated the list from a number of local musicians' songs that he knew would fit the script, including three of his own originals, with lyrics by Cortlund. Also on the list are Blaze Foley, Don Walser, and one from BettySoo that fits the plot perfectly: "Things Are Only Gonna Get Worse."

Cortlund and Halperin believe the chill Austin vibe plays well to the ominous storyline. "We put a high emphasis on making sure it's right, not fake, and authentic to the world we're in. I think an audience member – no matter where they're from – will get that. It's gonna be nice to launch the premiere in Austin and walk out the door and feel like it's the same world," says Cortlund. A nice sentiment, to be certain, but laden with that uneasy intuition about an impending sharp turn.

Cortlund explains, "We have set out to make a suspense film and we were careful not to rely on well-worn paths for that. It would be very easy to have made a cheap thriller in the same pattern as Single White Female or something, but we were coming at this more from a position of great Texas writer Patricia Highsmith. We actually wrote the first draft at a residency where Highsmith wrote Strangers on a Train, so it felt very auspicious to be in that same environment. It felt like we were being visited by the grande dame of American suspense. It's a story that relies on the characters to make the psychology work, so that was always our goal. You may not see it coming, but when it does, you'll think, 'Oh, maybe I should've seen that coming.'"

La Barracuda


Saturday, March 11, 1pm, Stateside
Sunday, March 12, 5:15pm, Alamo South Lamar
Thursday, March 16, 8:30pm, Alamo South Lamar

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La Barracuda, SXSW 2017, SXSW Film 2017, Jason Cortlund, Julia Halperin, Now, Forager, Sophie Reid

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