Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: American Scumbags

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

American Scumbags
Written, produced, directed and edited by Dakota Bailey
R.A. Productions
70 minutes, 2016

Director Dakota Bailey is lucky. And smart. He has found a genre niche that fits him well, and is sticking to it. His stories are fly-on-the-wall tales of pure human animal need vs. want vs. humanity that are incredibly down-to-the-ground gritty. I hope he gets used to the word, because gritty is probably a buzzword that will become ever more associated with his work. This is a compliment.

What makes his films “horror” is not some guy in a mask and machete that can’t be killed, or evil raised by people in cloaks, or something buried that returns; rather it’s the guy on the street you pass that is thinking about his next fix and will do anything to get it, or the person in the car next to you sharing the street light who is planning to pour acid on someone to avenge a perceived wrongdoing. It is meaner streets, where Joe Pesci’s character Johnny “Am I a clown?!” Devito would be considered a punk ass (and not in a Ramones kinda way).

Bailey deals with similar themes as his previous film, My Master Satan (reviewed by me HERE); in this one, we a given three stories in a city ironically named Sunnydale that are so interconnected they overlap to the point of melding into a narrative of anger, fear, and depravity – all for the benefit and enjoyment of the viewer. In this way we are introduced to the main characters: a convict who is a sadistic sociopath named Billy the Kid who needs to control the women in his life even if it means killing their pets (Darien Fawkes), the drug kingpin with the man-bun Chester (Fred Epstein), a crazed ex-con who is in a money-pickle named Lucifer who believes his own designation (Nick Benning), and Johnny (director Bailey), a hitman who kills for his drug needs. Others include a wheel-chair bound alcoholic Vietnam vet, an equally drunkard pedophile who likes little boys just out of the can, and… well, you get the idea.

After the title-carded character introduction, the first story set-up is “Billy the Kid”, and the others include “Raping the World with Guns and Drugs.” Through it all, even with the mostly ex-girlfriend (Katy Katzar) obsessed Billy, we see mostly men acting at their basest. This is a macho world we are presented. The only “carded” female character is naturally a bombastic and zaftig prostitute, Angel (Bianca Valentino). Whether she lives up to the “Scumbag” descriptor, I’ll leave you to find out.

Dakota Bailey as Johnny, on the phone
In a similar feel to the earlier flick, we meet these characters who all seem to know each other in a kind of underworld miasma, but rarely do we see them interconnect physically for any length time (other than to kill), except via the technology of cell phones. By this means we get to know the individual characters better (well, more than we’d want in real life). Perhaps it is not the history of what got them there, but certainly a higher-level vision of where they are, which is more than you get with most modern “people = death fodder” films.

There’s nothing fancy in the production. For example, the camera work is obviously handheld with a feel of found footage, though with editing it is not meant to be that. It actually works for this kind of story, making it feel in part like you are there, but not like someone just turned on a camera and shot it, which ironically takes the viewer out of the moment. The black and white also gives the grit more of a kick, with a mixture of the view being high contrast, dark, or washed out, depending on the moment (and lighting). It could also be a metaphor for a colorless life of despair, crime, narcissism and high drama (and ego-and-drug induced stupidity).

As for the acting, well, there’s no Joe Pesci, but at the same time – and more importantly – it really does feel like these guys are just being themselves (with one exception), so there’s fumbling when talking as one would in real life. Some of the dialog definitely has an improv vibe. Again, while in other circumstances in films that make take the viewer out of the action through distraction, here it is used to bring you into the hyper-realism of these characters and situations that you would never really want to be a part of in real life (hopefully). It truly feels like a form of voyeurism, as if looking through someone else’s eyes.

Despite all the violence against others, what makes these people stand out is the level of self-destructive behaviour, even if it comes out as external expression. Deep down, every one of these characters is committing slow suicide on some level, enticing others to do action against them as much as they are putting dangerous substances into themselves.

I don’t want to end this without mentioning the really great soundtrack, featuring classic hardcore style by the band Pizzatramp, from South Wales, UK.

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