Mermaids’ Lament is equal parts beautiful and frustrating, combining an emotional fantasy with an element of self-help philosophy that doesn’t quite mesh. The story follows Oee (Davya Summer Escobar), a mermaid who has found herself stuck on dry land, homeless and detached from her kind. Nell (Justina Mattos) is a psychiatrist who finds Oee on the street and decides to help her. In classic mermaid tradition, Oee can’t talk, and what she does manage to communicate to Nell doesn’t necessarily fall on open ears. Mermaids aren’t real, after all. Oee and Nell’s journeys of self-discovery intertwine to tell a story that blends the fantastical with the challenge of overcoming very human traumas.

G.B. Hajim directs the hell out of the film (which he also wrote), using just about every trick in the book to convey the beauty of the natural world, particularly around Oee. He uses water and underwater photography to great effect. This isn’t a mermaid movie where the ocean disappears as soon as the heroine leaves it. The seas play a pivotal role, both symbolic and literal, for both of the women, and it’s by far the most successful element of his film.

Escobar and Mattos are both excellent here, too, as two very different women who grow to understand one another despite language and cultural barriers. The film revolves around their relationship, and they really commit to the roles and sell their characters.

The film also utilizes a narration (credited to famed voice actor Steve Blum) that makes the film’s themes even more explicit, creating a redundancy with the actual story being told on screen. He also muses on other elements of trauma and recovery, and at times, the combination of nature photography and narration make Lament feels like a meditation video of sorts. There’s nothing wrong with that effect if that’s what Hajim is going for, but it always feels like a tonal shift from Oee and Nell’s narrative.

Still, there’s some impressive work on display in Mermaids’ Lament, and Hajim clearly had a story he wanted to tell about trauma and recovery. He made the movie he wanted to make, and it is powerful when it works.