Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review: The Rise and Fall of an American Scumbag

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2018
Images from the Internet

The Rise and Fall of an American Scumbag
Written, cinematography, directed and edited by Dakota Bailey
R.A. Productions
38 minutes, 2018

Here is the generalized truth about evil people: they do not realize they are terrible citizens. Those who bomb abortion clinics, marched in Charlottesville, the person coming into your home and stealing your goods to sell for drugs? They rationalize that the ends justify their means, or that they are doing what they believe is necessary, or they just think that you are the evil one for letting women vote, letting darker skinned people into the country, or not bending down to idolize whomever they idolize in however way they idolize their idol (more on this later). This includes the Westboro Baptist Church, the mufti of wherever calling for jihad, or even what has become known as the Taylor Swift Army.

Dakota Bailey
Lower class whites in poor neighborhoods and ghettos, the drug addicted, murderous, lecherous, down and out folk who will do anything to not live, but merely survive, are the focus of director and actor Dakota Bailey’s stories and lens. He calls himself an auteur, and he certainly is one of the few who could actually be covered by that term in its truer and literal sense. Not counting his short films, this is his fourth full length release made with non-pro actors who know how to get the job done. Sometimes I wonder where the stories start and the people end. And in Bailey’s stories, a lot of people “end.”

This is a sequel to American Scumbags, released in 2016 (reviewed by me HERE). It brings back some of the characters who actually managed to survive the first blood-splattered collection of three intertwining stories. The remainders are mostly a viscous nutjob control freak named Billy (Darien Fawkes), and Johnny (director Bailey), a hitman who kills for his drug needs.

Once again we visit the still ironically named city of Sunnydale (filmed in Denver), where it seems like it may be the location of a Dante-eske Purgatory or even the other place. The five interlocking stories could be the overlapping rings of Hell and each member lives in their own mind-world, often connected by cell phone more than the physical; they are often in motion through foot, wheelchair or pick-up truck, and hats and wigs often seem of play an indirect part in separating the head from the space they occupy, as a shield or barrier.

Darien Fawkes
While Bailey’s films have all followed the auteur’s path, including title cards and persons descriptors (e.g., “Billy: Sadistic Sociopath”) in a similar font, monochrome tinting of the visuals, and using friends as the characters. However, he still finds room to grow. For example, in this release, we often hear what characters are thinking, which is a much better touch than just hearing them speak on cell phones to gather what is their motivation. Bailey’s editing skill is also improving; with more fluid scenes and less jump cuts, making the film’s pacing easier and less jarring, allowing us to focus on the content more than the form.

There is also a lot of both Christian and Satanic imagery, in both blatant and subtle forms. For example, there is a “666” written inside a file cabinet drawer or a Devil graffiti, but there is also the Novena candles that line the sides of the road (my fave is one of Jesus holding two guns in his folded arms), or Christmas decorations, many of which get mashed. However, this is the first Bailey release I can remember where Satan himself doesn’t make an appearance directly.

Marla Rose
So, what I’m saying is that there are two ways one can look at this specific aspect of how the film looks at religion: one is that it is totally against the totalitarianism of the Religious Right (or, as I once heard it called, Political Christianity) and how that helps destroy societies. The other is from the perspective of a hyper-Christian, who probably sees that being a non-Christian leads to drugs, murder and Satanism. I’m quite sure this leans towards the former, but the latter should be acknowledged. If you read my reviews regularly, you know where I stand (just ask).

The main character of the film is the aforementioned Billy, who is also the most interesting to me. Fawkes’ drawl, missing front teef, knee-length black coat and black hat make him both hateful and interesting at the same time. He’s out to score some money by any means necessary, and drugs for his very cute girlfriend, Candy (Marla Rose). Mind you, this is pretty much the norm as nearly everyone is seen doing some kind of substance abuse throughout. Bailey is also drug-addled as a hitman on his way up, and his vicious no-compromise dealer is Pat (Alaskan Cinder). Other characters float in and out of these stories, but most either are blown away or do the slaying, though they are key turning points in the storyline. As none of these are “professional” actors, the level of skill is variant, but some such as Fawkes definitely hold their own.

One lesson learned from this film is if you are going to be a drug dealer (and I am certainly not recommending that as I’m pretty strait-edge), don’t also be a user because it clouds your judgment; of course, being a dealer is not a great judge of judgment either. Another lesson to be had is taking heroin and thinking it’s cocaine is not a good thing.

Alaskan Cinder
The five chapters are kind of superfluous as the stories are so intertwined they flow as one narrative, but I like that it’s broken up that way, with titles like “Drugged Up & Dead to the World,” “Ghosts of Addiction,” and “The American Dream is a Fucking Lie.” Yeah, it’s quite nihilistic, but that’s the world Bailey is putting under the microscope. Many of the “larger” films focus on the crime world, but Bailey’s releases feel like you’re right there. Also, while most mainstream films tend to present this types as characters as African-American, Latino or some other form of Other, Bailey uses White actors that put it right in your neighborhood. That’s one of the things I like about his films, and each gets better stylistically and story-wise.

The music is loud and blaring, by the hardcore death metal Skullcrack, which fits the film well. It may be a bit on the short side, but there is no padding whatsoever, so you get as much action in this amount of time as in most 80-90 minutes releases.

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