Saturday, January 14, 2017
TRASH FIRE (2016)
Written & Directed By: Richard Bates Jr.
Cinematography By: Shane Daly
Editor: Yvonne Valdez
Cast: Adrien Grenier, Angela Trimbaur, Annalynne McCord, Fionulla Flanagan, Matthew Gray Gubler, Sally Kirkland, Ezra Buzzington, Ray Santiago
The obnoxious, cynical and sarcastic web designer Owen lives with his girlfriend Isabelle. Owen has analysis with his psychiatrist Florence since he feels guilty for the fire that killed his parents and deformed his sister Beatrice. When Isabelle discloses that she is pregnant, she asks Owen to make up with his only family composed by his estranged grandmother Violet and Beatrice. Owen warns Isabelle that Violet is a nasty woman, but they travel to his hometown. They learn that Violet is a despicable woman that keeps Beatrice locked in her room. Isabelle realizes that Owen has told the truth about Violet, but they stay for a couple of days more because of Beatrice with tragic consequences.
I will admit to being a bit of a fan of director Richard Bates Jr. As each of his films you can tell he is a fan of genre and cult films. Each of his own films is dark, but wildly original. He never repeats himself in the feelings and tones of the films. Which leaves you never exactly knowing what you are going to get.
Which makes his films all the more exciting to me. He does tend to use the same actors. As usually they all have a certain following or past in known cult movies. Usually veteran actors.
This film still has sharp writing and involves characters who are anti-social and downright strange. Here he makes them compelling. As their behavior only adds to a build up. Where all is revealed.
It seems like the first act of the film is a challenge to the audience. More like an acid dipped witty romantic comedy of sorts that takes prisoners. Saying if you can't stand these characters or simply don't like them or the mood that is being thrown down. Don't keep watching as it does get a little more lighter but still has a dark and challenging tone. So if you can't make it past the first part you don't deserve the rest.
Sort of like the warning director Gasper Noe offered in his film I STAND ALONE. After a certain scene warning if you are squeamish. It is best you stop watching now or leave the theater. Luckily here it doesn't get as hardcore or graphic as that film, but things get pretty Heavy in behavior and tone. Though this film has it's own wavelength. It still feels like something different that is hard to define. It's a misfit doesn't fit in anywhere but is remarkable of on it's Own. There is an experimental bravery running through this film that makes it feel alive and take risks that other filmmakers rarely do. Though it seems with each new film Richard Bates Jr. is challenging the audience and himself more and more only with more confidence and perspective as he seems to reveal his vision and seems to be learning something at the same time. As he is someone who rarely repeats himself except in casting. And keeps his films exciting nonetheless
This film Is many things and feels like different films at times that all involve the same characters. As at one point it feels like a dark comedy about relationships. The. It morphs into a bizarro meet the family film with dark undertones. Then it becomes almost a ghost story with the character of Pearl played By AnnaLynne McCord always sneaking around and watching the other characters as she rarely interacts with them.
It also plays as a character study as we watch the main characters behavior and as the film goes along we see what made him the way he is and actually seems more sane and sedate than his remaining family.
Then it becomes a horror film as certain characters behavior and intent becomes more clear. Also past mysteries answers are revealed and answered for the audience if not for the other characters.
The atmosphere of the film always feels haunting and like a horror film in the second half. Even as the bulk of the story is played more as a dark comedy.
Though AnnaLynne McCord makes an impression in her second film with the director. Here she is more the centerpiece of character. As her character has second degree burns over 90% of her body, but the filmmaker wisely never really shows us the extent of this or her face really until near the end of the films so while she is a presence we never are quite sure what she looks like and as described by others. We are quite scared as what we imagine is probably worse than what there actually is as far as scarring and damage.
Though as strong as she is. She is a known entity in the film that we are already warned about or know if before we see the film. The other strong cast member amongst the cast is Angela Trimbaur. She is the secret weapon. She is the least known in the cast, but makes the strongest impression as the put upon girlfriend of the main character Adrain Grenier.
She could have easily played the role as one note, but here she is the audiences eyes as she is introduced to all of this as we are, but also when the film starts out she seems as miserable as the main character. Though we get to see glimpses of her humanity it seems she has been made this way dealing with him, but is it used to be normal through interactions with her friends and family. We also see the vulnerable side of her. So that thoroughly she is playing many different emotions and dimensions, it she ends up being one of the most likeable characters and one we remember most as the cast is filled with plenty of strong minded and memorable characters. Between this film and her role in FINAL GIRLS. It truly shows Ms. Trimbaur is on her way to bigger and better roles like this in the future.
This film feels strangely personal as it comes across to take no prisoners. As each time you think you know where it is going it takes a turn. Every time it seems like it will be sweet it turns bitter. Though you do grow attached to the characters. So that by the end of the film. It stays with you. As this film seems to haunt your memories for days after. Not that any of his films one would call immature, but with this film it feels like Mr. Bates. Has made a serious film Ultimately this is a dysfunctional family film. That might remind some of a more twisted and just as disturbing similar in situations HOUSE OF YES. Which it might make a interesting double feature with that takes him and his filmmaking into new territory. As this is definitely a step up from SUBURBAN GOTHIC. Though still not a film i would imagine the director of EXCISION making.
The characters seem to grow as the film goes along as at first it is easy to just judge and label but as the film goes along and we get to know them we see not only what has made them the way they are, but how some are open to change and others determined to stay in the same place.
They aren't all as hateful as they first seem. Some are actually innocent in nature and doing what they can to just survive and acting out of basic instinct.
The film doesn't judge any of them but rather presents them as is and let's the narrative more or less reveal what is needed to be known still leaving the audience to decide their thoughts. Even if there might be some obvious villains.
This film is definitely not disposable.