“You can’t keep running away” – and yet that is the central theme that sums up Beth McManus (Katia Winter). We’re cryptically introduced to Beth – in a dazed and panic frenzy, she packs her things and travels back home to her estranged family in a coastal fishing town, burdened with a deep, dark secret.

From the get-go, Matthew Ya-Hsiung Balzer’s The Catch sets its stall pretty high. It’s a cinematic mood board, built on mysterious beginnings, a young woman’s paralysing fear and a testing family dynamic – all wrapped up within a crime drug story. There’s a lot to encompass within its muted visual palette, minimal score and scenic cinematography – all cleverly done to draw its audiences into a seemingly engaging story. The slow-burning embers of its melodrama have their moments, but sadly, it leaves a lot left to be desired.

For the first half, The Catch centres itself as a family drama, an awkward family reunion with Beth as the rebellious ‘Black Sheep’ who returns home after five years away. And naturally, the years of distrust and past misdemeanours are a cause for concern for Beth’s father, Tom McManus (Bill Sage), who welcomes his daughter’s return with curfews and strict monitoring of her movements whilst overseeing a struggling family business.

Katia Winter brings a level of intrigue to her performance, always maintaining a fragile persistence of aloofness and avoidance that sums up her existence. She’s someone who keeps her emotions under tight control, a person who has no choice being back home but has to assimilate back into a society filled with old-time traditions, friendships and vices that got her into trouble in the first place. Yet her ultimate need is basic – she needs money to complete her escape, and her rekindled relationship with her ex-boyfriend Dicky (James McMenamin) provides an avenue for that to happen. All they need to do is rip off a local drug deal with criminals who use the fishing scene as their cover.

You can tell that Balzer (who also wrote the independent feature) loves that anti-hero essence. The Catch is consciously aware that Beth is not a saint. Her interactions with her father become increasingly fractured and strained as events transpire. That desperation becomes the overriding momentum for the character, driven by fear and trauma that’s slowly revealed through a series of flashbacks that punch the speakers with deafening bangs of someone banging on the door. And Balzer does well to build that entrapped claustrophobia for Beth where she’s unable to shake past the memory, and running is her only option.

 Of course, women are more than just trauma and grief. Layered within the complex labyrinth of emotions lies a story that is full of enriching depth. But The Catch is also a film that barely scratches the surface of those emotions. There’s an underwhelming looseness within its cold density in how it portrays that fear, hinging its emotional weight without delving further into the breach of that context. There are natural questions it breeds, but it’s unable to invest in those answers. And when a film barely reaches that level of engagement, then it’s only a matter of time within its slow pacing before frustration and disappointment settles in, and that is despite Katia’s best efforts in what she brings to the role.

Balzer seems less interested in the conventional path – a character-centric story based on straightforward tendencies that engage in the feminine insight of wellbeing, fear and accountability, which could have drawn a deeper connection with the material. So, it becomes a shame when most of its interesting talking points are abandoned for something so mundane and predictably basic. There’s a whiff of ‘missed opportunities’ it adopts in how it invests in its multi-threaded story. Despite the good intentions, the plot becomes saddled and overloaded with various subplots. They serve as a distraction, with the camera eager to return to Beth and her idealistic plan with her ex to escape their small-town existence. And once it decides to take on this direction, it never finds its true rhythm and fails to settle. And that feeling is naturally extended to its characters, who are never given the adequate depth, space and room to be anything other than simple foils of protagonists or antagonists.

There’s simply not enough time for what it wants to uncover, despite the thoughtful commentary that arises. There’s a heartfelt story embedded within its embrace on how the ‘little man’ battles against corporate and commercial interests, the type that threatens local livelihoods and businesses. It’s the type of conversation so topically on point with the disappearing of industries and the communities that help them build it. While the inclusion feels apt and relevant, there’s not much ground to manoeuvre when it feels like an entire movie all by itself.

And amongst its poetic ambience, the intensity and its natural convergence between the elements, how the film reconciles with accountability and responsibility is somewhat unresolved and unfulfilled. The film’s thin veil of substance doesn’t help when it’s in a sudden rush to conclude everything.

The Catch is a solid but generic piece that heavily relies on its stylistic presence rather than its plot. Balzer shows off that potential, craft and tapestry with the story – it’s bleak, moody, cold and resolute in its murkiness when it matters, but its overall execution is lost at sea.

Rating: ★★