There are a variety of types of horror out there, but the best deal with family. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for instance, wouldn’t have been as disturbing if not for the deranged family that lived in the house. The latest film from Ricky Bates Jr. was recently made available on VOD and iTunes and tackles the horror of family and the baggage that changes a person. We review.
So what’s it about?
When Owen is forced to confront the past he’s been running from his whole adult life, he and his girlfriend, Isabel, become entangled in a horrifying web of lies, deceit, and murder. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll be scarred for life.
Why does this movie matter?
The director’s first film has appeared on countless lists for best horror film of the year and of the last decade. Hell we liked it a lot too. We spoke to him four years ago about that film and he made it clear the horror comes from a complex place. It’s the same with Trash Fire, which means if you give it a chance, it may just haunt your “best of” list too.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Ah family…isn’t it awful?!
Though it may be post Halloween, films like this can be watched anytime as they delve into the psychological issues family lay upon their children. This film is almost like two films, as writer and director Bates Jr. focuses the first half on a young man named Owen and woman named Isabel with a lot of issues, and then shifts to a visit to Owen’s remaining family. By splitting the film like this we get to see how Owen and Isabel’s relationship is poison in its complex and awkward brokenness. It allows the viewer to judge them and attempt to understand them, so that when we see how screwed up Owen’s past is it make us question our judgement of Owen and the relationship he’s in. It may not sound like a horror film, but it is, as it forces you to delve into the complex horror of two people attempting to make a relationship work.
While the opening half was disturbing and the relationship intriguing to unravel, it’s also quite upsetting. Owen (played by Adrian Grenier who gives the character a selfish and naive sort of personality) is a terrible person to his girlfriend, and yet she stays. Many women may find themselves being reminded of past relationships based on the one going on here and in some ways that’s a new level of disturbing you just don’t get in horror films. Isabel (played by Angela Trimbur who is fantastic in this) is motherly, smart, and determined to make this work. It’s her idea to visit his family so as to allow Owen to reconnect with them and it makes sense…until you meet the family that is.
Be very afraid of modern relationships!
The second half is where it becomes a little more in line with other horror films of this nature. The family has been reduced to two people. Owen’s grandmother (played brilliantly by Fionnula Flanagan) is a Bible thumping hateful type who manipulates with the best of them. Owen’s sister Pearl (played by AnnaLynne McCord) lives as a shut-in with only Owen’s grandmother to take care of her as she has a terrible fear of being seen due to being horribly burned in the house fire that killed their parents. The film reveals the darkness that resides in the grandmother and thus spreads out through the family. Anyone deeply religious might be disturbed by this film as Bates Jr. reveals the psychotic belief some folks have, but ultimately it’s about the guilt our elders place on us for better or worse.
Though the film is complex and heavy at times, Bates Jr. still infuses it with a bit of humor here and there to lighten the mood. The humor is subtle, but effective, allowing the viewer to immerse themselves and not take it too seriously.
It can’t be perfect can it?
There’s a climactic scene late in the film that raises tensions, but falls flat. I’m not sure if it was being played up to make the audience laugh, but Bates Jr. builds towards a very anticlimactic moment. It doesn’t quite work and sticks out, especially since much of the film is focused on character work.
While AnnaLynne McCord does well to capture a broken and closed off human being, the burns she exhibits aren’t really horrific. There was an opportunity to do more with the disturbing visuals, but instead much of her face is fine (maybe to avoid completely hiding the actress’s beauty) and the burns aren’t all that scary.
Fionnula Flanagan is fantastic in this film.
Is It Good?
Trash Fire is poignant and thought provoking, bringing family values to its knees. It’s a thoughtful and well written film that will make you want to discuss with your friends. Trash Fire may just make you shout in anger and frustration, but eventually be brought to resolute horrific calm. Well crafted as it pulls you in, this will disturb in all the right ways.