Writer-director Daniel Peddle’s Moss emphasizes, for better and worse, the crushing monotony of living in insolated parts of the Deep South. Early on in a voiceover directed to his mother, who died while giving birth to him, Moss (Mitchell Slaggert) mentions how every day is the same. Peddle chronicles the ennui of his characters in protracted observational sequences, as in Blaze (Dorian Cobb), a pot dealer, sitting by the water playing a harmonica, or Moss’s father (Billy Ray Suggs) carving wood sculptures or eating at a diner. The modest presentation of such rituals articulates the unremarkable nature of each passing day for these two characters, though Peddle doesn’t show the same restraint when capturing Moss’s own daily routines.
On his 18th birthday, Moss is tasked by his father to transport pills to his grandmother, only the teen ends up smoking weed with Blaze and lamenting his virginity. Upon leaving Blaze’s houseboat, Moss, almost preposterously on cue, meets a beautiful free-spirited traveler named Mary (Christine Marzano), and the two subsequently embark on an ambiguous drug-fueled dalliance through the area’s swamplands. But Mary and Moss’s daylong encounter at times seems inconsequential to Peddle, given the filmmaker’s practically extremist fixation on the area’s admittedly breathtaking scenery.
Almost every scene that features Moss at its center is weighed down by a droningly philosophical voiceover that ultimately feels inconsequential given how Peddle offers little insight into the real-world pressures that might provoke such self-reflection. Early on, Moss muses that he feels guilt over his strained relationship with his father and the death of his mother, but you wouldn’t know that that’s the case by the time he meets up with Mary. Peddle sees Moss’s escapade with Mary as a release from the constraints of an underwhelming life, but the film’s oppressive style is anything but freeing. Indeed, after numerous extended sequences of lens-flared nature shots set to ambient guitar, the boredom of life here becomes our own.
No less conspicuous is Mary’s characterization as a Deep South spin on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Less person than cipher, she not only shares a name with Moss’s dead mother, but she’s also winsome and quirky—which is to say, unlike anyone else in Moss’s life. (That she can skillfully make an apple bong is, naturally, the icing on the cake of Moss’s infatuation for her.) If Peddle intended Moss as a coming-of-age tale, you wouldn’t know that from the way Moss interacts with his new friend, as Mary doesn’t force him to question anything about his young life. But that’s maybe because she seems to exist only to cloyingly reinforce the teen’s ideas of what a woman should be like.