Readers may recall several months back when I had the pleasure of reviewing the first release from a small startup label called Retrovision.
Run by a young man who (at least at the time) was still in high school (!), he and his homegrown production company managed to work the distribution rights, acquire the original film elements and remaster for a hi-def world Enzo Castellari’s notorious Last Shark, a highly enjoyable Italo-sharksploitation that was more or less sued out of existence by a man I’ve never been a fan of to say the least, a certain nebbish of a Hollywood power broker who goes by the name of Spielberg.*
*I should note that Brannon of Retrovision, being a huge Jaws fan, does not share my distaste for the man’s filmic efforts.
While we wait for his next aquatic based release (which include a rumored restoration of Castellari’s Franco Nero showcase The Shark Hunter, the SOV effort Great White and his own foray into the shark infested waters of cinematic production, The Shark), Brannon and Retrovision have expressed a surprising if perhaps refreshingly ambitious desire to expand focus well beyond the boundaries of icthyc exploitation.
Case in point, Todd Braley’s Liar.
Braley, a Colorado filmmaker who moved from work as dailies supervisor and tape room operator to local access television commercial and show productions before making the move into film shorts three years ago, offers a somewhat unusual SOV by way of DTV mumblecore production falling outside the more traditional slasher motif the genre is noted for.
While sadly never approaching the sort of deliriously clueless hilarity (and thus entertainment level) of, say, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room or James Nguyen’s Birdemic (both oddball dramas at core), this is still way out in left field: a no budget indie production that tries to be a sort of local yokel take on Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (albeit one without the mystery or stylistic flourishes).
Probably the most amusing credit comes by way of one Jordyn Leonard, billed as “Medical Consultant” (!), but there’s little to laugh about here. In fact, it’s downright grim.
The impoverished state of the American Midwest is put on clear display, as we pan through a series of vignettes of concrete lawn sporting, barracks-style tract homes with collapsing picket fence sections, barns in the driveway (!) and ineffectual chain link fencing serving as some sorry partition between one lookalike aluminum sided single level after another.
We meet our cast one after the next: two morbidly obese women and one more regular sized (and not unattractive) but rather butch and hyper-aggressive type.
The first two are in (very) abusive relationships – one (“Hannah”, Sonja Nelson Provost) spends the first 20 minutes crawling around the house and front porch and sporting a huge shiner delivered by her disgusting Big Show-esque husband (“Houston”, Brandon Lofton), who speaks in a prominent drawl, cracks the belt menacingly and throws the “N word” around without compunction.
The other (“Etta”, Kristina Andrew), who has the largest forehead I’ve ever seen and some nasty tattoos on her rather wide back) is supposedly some ex-stripper (GAH!), and is in a more emotionally abusive relationship with her sleazy Al Bundy-like boyfriend (“Gerald”, Dylan McDine Cox), who weighs about a quarter of her own girth and would thus hardly prove believable as a physical abuser – she’d break him in half!
The testosterone queen (“Adele”, Tera Garnett) walks around in poorly razor-sliced jeans with a perpetual case of PMS and rather than being abused, appears to be the actual abuser in her relationship, which spoils the intention of the film just a bit.
Apparently her big beef is that her boyfriend (“Frank”, Kyle Reed Evans) gave her herpes, since she’s supposed to have been a virgin before him (cough-laugh-choke). Make no mistake, this girl’s a tough one and not afraid to get physical (and I don’t mean that in the good sense, either).
The film revolves around the intervention of an apparent good samaritan (“Whittiker”, Darius Devontaye Green) who steps in during a public beating between Houston and Hannah, before surprisingly returning packing heat and offing the guy (with a sleeper hold, yet). When she tries to make contact with him later, Whittiker pretends he never met Hannah before.
She lets the others in on the big secret during their apparent daily boozefest, which leads, somewhat improbably and without logical rationale, to his repeating the service for all three of the women. But there’s a comeuppance, particularly after Etta makes the ridiculous decision to shoot Whittiker rather than paying him off…
Wow, this is the sort of film that makes you glad you’re not reality TV watching, beer slugging, strip bar haunting, spaghetti strap T-shirt wearing, card carrying white trash, which is exactly the demographic being explored here. Good God, is this Jerry Springer-style, obese, none too intelligent, near-Juggalo absurdity really what our nation (or at least portions thereof) has become over the past decade or so? I am ashamed for all of us, if so.
While you certainly feel sorry for Hannah and can see why Etta feels the way she does about her sorry excuse for a man, Adele really has no excuse – she’s pretty much just a bitch. The worst she could say is that her man sleeps around. So? Kick him to the curb and take some industrial strength Midol, maybe it’ll fix that personality for you.
Well, at least it’s only 48 minutes of my life wasted.
No real extras, other than trailers for other Braley and Retrovision upcoming releases, most or all of which look to be a whole hell of a lot more entertaining than this one turned out to be.
While tense and reasonably well scripted for this sort of thing, this isn’t exactly my cup of tea, and veers way too far into trash culture (and more than a hint of torture porn aesthetics) for my digestion.
The soundtrack is provided by one Glenn Birks, whose singing voice bears an unfortunate resemblance to Dave Matthews, but whose band and music are far more indebted to electric Delta blues. If you can ignore the somewhat grating vocals, the music (and the many instrumentals peppered throughout) are pretty damn good for a no-budget indie production, and are available for purchase separately on iTunes. Even if (like myself) you’d prefer to avoid the sort of unpleasantness Braley is putting on display here, you may want to give Birks’ music a listen – for what it’s trying to be, it’s really not bad.
Whew. All I can really say is to reiterate that it’s good to see Retrovision branching out a bit from their initial sharksploitation focus, and compliment once again such a young entrepeneur on delivering yet another wholly professional package of a DVD.
As for the film itself…well, let’s just say that Blood & Secrets, another Braley effort on tap for future release, looks a whole hell of a lot more entertaining – hopefully I’ll have some better news to report when that one streets.
To say anything more positive about it would make me a “Liar” as well…and that’s just not a bridge I’m willing to cross.