Dir. Justin Benson, Aaron Scott Moorehead
Written by Justin Benson
Starring Peter Cilella, Vinnie Curran, Zahn McClarnon
This is an interesting, likeable little micro-budget indie drama with just the slightest overtures of some kind of horror story. The two leads are pretty much the only people in the film with any significant screen time, and almost all of that is spent in one location, and that location is a shitty, stripped out flophouse with only a stained matress and a bucket for decoration. To say it’s minimal is like saying that G. G. Allin was “a little over the top.” Doesn’t quite capture the spirit of the thing.
That’s OK though, it turns out these two dudes and the bucket are all the movie needs to keep your attention. It’s the story of old friends Mike (Peter Cilella) and Chris (Vinnie Curran) who are reunited when clean-cut Mike unexpectedly arrives at Chris’s isolated, filthy druggie squat with the intent to sober him up by any means necessary. When Chris proves less than receptive, Mike takes the unusual step of tasering him and chaining him to the wall for a week until the drugs leave his system. What is this, another SAW movie?
|So they got that perfectly awesome poster I put up at the top, and looks what they get for Netflix.|
Although the handcuffs on the movie’s poster make it look like another tedious “gritty” torture deal, that’s not the way it plays at all. Chris is too strung out and pathetic to really have “being chained to the wall” reach his top ten biggest problems, so the focus is actually on the frayed relationship between the two, as they wait it out together and talk about their lives, their motives, and how much Chris would really, really like a hit of crack right now. Sounds nice, but there’s are two notable problems here. The first of which is that various groups of dangerous locals are getting increasingly agitated at Mike’s attempt the shake things up, and a violent confrontation appears to be looming. The second is that Mike keeps finding recordings and images of disturbing stories which seem to take place in the near vicinity. At first it seems like he’s finding them by accident, but before long it becomes clear that whoever is making these things isn’t going to take no for an answer.
That’s the hook, anyway, but the vast majority of the movie isn’t about that, in fact it mostly seems kind of incidental and only really takes center stage at the very, very end. And that’s OK, because actually the nuanced portrayals of the two men at the heart of the film are much more interesting anyway. Both actors do excellent work crafting believable, well-rounded characters who are both flawed and fundamentally likeable. It would be incredibly easy to fuck either one of these characters up. Mike could easily come off as a one-dimensional goody-two shoes or a pushy, judgmental narc. Instead, Cilella plays him as a likeable but relatably imperfect guy doing this for a variety of complex reasons. And Chris could easily have been a cliched movie junkie, a patronizing symptom instead of a character. But Curran plays him as a sympathetic, funny dude while at the same time never downplaying the seriousness of his problems; you completely understand why Mike likes him and refuses to give up on him, while still getting a clear sense of the harm he’s capable of.
|The Feng Shui of this place seems a little off.|
In fact, I’d go so far as saying that the portrayal of Chris (and the way Mike relates to him) is among the most emotionally realistic depictions of addiction I’ve seen. The movie steadfastly avoids making him into a weepy, melodramatic martyr or villain; he’s a complicated guy with issues that go far beyond mere addiction, but he’s also slyly charming, disarmingly honest. Just genuinely likable. Most serious addicts I’ve met are exactly like that; it’s how they manage to keep being addicts, by charming people into letting things slide that they really shouldn’t. Not that it’s an act or manipulation, just that it’s a survival tool. Junkies need to mooch, and you can’t do that for very long unless people like you.
I kept thinking about Kurt Cobain while watching this, thinking about all the footage of him goofing around backstage. I mean, there’s a guy with a serious, debilitating drug addiction and crushing emotional problems, but the thing that seems to be on his lips most is a really dumb joke. It’s partly a defense mechanism, but a bigger part of it is just that people are more than their problems. To RESOLUTION’s undying credit, it realizes this; it puts the people, not their diagnosis, at front and center. Yes, the premise is about kicking Chris’s drug addiction, but the real drama is in the interplay between the two characters. In fact, I think you could probably remove the whole drug angle and with minimal changes tell essentially the same story of the same two characters sometimes working out their problems but mostly just hanging out. And sometimes watching creepy videos that a mysterious force is pushing on them.
I’m not quite sure what to make of the film’s ambiguous insinuations regarding a horror story. The sudden and inexplicable appearance of disturbing media (be it books, photos or, especially, videos) is hardly a groundbreaking concept for a horror films (see; CACHE, LOST HIGHWAY, etc), and the particulars of the media they get aren't especially interesting. There is a pretty cool sense of the overwhelming strangeness of this, though, and combined with the vulnerability their isolation brings it successfully casts a vague sense of unease on the whole experience. It feel pretty minor, though. Chris is openly dismissive of the whole thing, (which sort of makes sense given that he has bigger problems) but also makes it hard for the movie to build much momentum around this aspect of the plot. Only one guy cares about this, and it’s kind of a side thing he does when he’s has a rare moment away from his primary goal, so although it works fine as a minor tonal detail, it doesn’t exactly fold very neatly into the main plot. Sometimes it seems like it’s kind of competing with it, in fact. Weaving vague elements of a horror story into this two-man drama was a good idea, but I’m not convinced the narrative quite marries the two as gracefully as it should. It’s not a disaster, but the horror element here is inarguably the most anemic thread in this narrative.
Because of the media aspect here and the overt suggestion that someone besides the viewer is watching this story, a number of reviewers seem to take it as some sort of meta-commentary on the process of telling and creating horror stories (most of these directly compared it to CABIN IN THE WOODS, strongly suggesting to me that they don’t watch many horror movies that aren’t snarky meta-commentaries). I suppose there’s something to that theory, but I’d like to think it’s a little less boring and trite than that, and to be honest I find it sort of annoying that critics feel the need to apologize for the horror aspects of this otherwise awards-friendly drama by trying to claim it's an above-it-all self-aware criticism of the form. The movie seems to take its horror elements seriously enough to imbue the whole story with a pleasing sort of unfocused dread and paranoia, and honestly that’s good enough for me. I’m not sure if I could tell you what it ultimately means, but by the end of the movies I gotta admit I cared about these two knuckleheads enough that it doesn’t seem fair to fob them off on some half-baked postmodern cop-out. Honest, thoughtful drama like this deserves honest horror. Hopefully that’s what is intended here; if not, well, it’s still how I choose to take it.