1962 Louisiana. When Eve, youngest daughter of the Batiste family, sees her doctor father flirting with one of his female patients, she unwitting sets the scene for family trauma and tragedy.
There's a lot to celebrate in this superior Southern drama, an imaginatively structured and visualised Gothic story of family, sisterhood, secrets and selective memory which is steeped in atmosphere.
For one thing, it's a remarkably assured and accomplished writing-directing debut from actress Lemmons (Jodie Foster's buddy in The Silence Of The Lambs). Lemmons is married to Vondie Curtis Hall, whose own noteworthy directorial bow with Gridlock'd makes them a couple seriously worth watching. For another, this film is that still shamefully rare pleasure, an absorbing ensemble piece in which a fine group of actors get to show their class and range, playing a black American family who are prosperous, cultured and complex.
Eve's Bayou is a handsome Louisiana property passed down from the original Eve, a one-time slave. In the early 1960s her descendants in residence include her namesake, the child Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollett), one of three siblings and our narrator/troubled witness to a strange, tragic and spellbinding sequence of events one summer. Daddy Louis (Jackson) is a respected doctor, an elegant charmer and a compulsive womaniser. Mother, Roz (Whitfield) maintains her poise and grace by suffering his philandering in silence. Sexy Aunt Mozelle (Morgan) is cursed in love and gifted with psychic vision, a hereditary gift Eve seems to have, too. The summer in question begins with a terrific party sequence in which Eve unwittingly opens a Pandora's box of guilty secrets.
The extended family and community are vividly drawn with a cast including veteran Diahann Caroll as a scary old voodoo priestess who fascinates Eve, Branford Marsalis as Mozelle's latest husband, Curtis Hall as a part Indian artist and ER's Nicole Carson as Daddy's dangerous new flame. Ten-year-old Smollett is a lovely child but also a natural, nuanced screen presence, providing a tender and winning heart to a tale of love and loss - Lemmons' inspired contribution to the great Southern storytelling tradition of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Harper Lee.
An atmospheric setting and mood provide the backdrop for some excellent performances from the accomplished cast.