Gueillermo's Latest Bridges Paranormal to Film Noir
Score: 7/10 Categories: Mystery/Thriller/Film Noir Director: Guillermo del Toro
What a stunning cast from a formidable filmmaker we have come so much to love and adore.
For hardcore Guillermo fans, be warned: in this, he leaves much of the beloved supernatural and paranormal elements at bay; though intrinsically at play, they do not embody here as in his previous works you may have loved, i.e. Pan's Labyrinth or Crimson Peak. However, visually and artistically, it whimsically reembodies the architecture and design aspects of art deco and nouveau periods masterfully, and it is beautiful.
This is a much more real del Toro, playing on the myths of superstitions and the occult, rather than embracing them wholeheartedly and instead seeing them for the falsifiers they can be rather than embellishing the mythos. It can be seen as a passage of maturity as a filmmaker, to approach these subjects with a delicate and loving glove, yet calling them out for their obscurities and deceits.
It's in that perspective very Guillermo: an object, a power, an entity, a person representing something more than they actually are. Symbolic, mythological, otherwordly. In Cronos, there is everlasting life given a sacrifice. In Pan's Labyrinth, we escape to a fantasy world beyond the brutal reality of the Spanish Civil War. In Crimson Peak, we empathize with the loss of the characters to the dust of the Industrial Revolution. In Nightmare Alley, the only mirrors and smoke are from Bradley Cooper, aka Stanton Carlisle, a false medium who fancies his clients and audiences with promises of ties to the unknown, the psychic exterior, the brutal inner psyche.
He preys upon our weaknesses as everyday humans, our pains, our struggles, by using a communicable system. We've all heard it before: fortune tellers draw on human queues, body language, physical attributes we dismissed. What he chooses to do with this skill is the trajectory of his character arc. Will he use it for good or bad? For the betterment of others or for personal gain? Or can he mischievously tie them into one purpose?
A "geek" in carnie terms (perhaps the origin of which we know now) is: untalented individuals who were often alcoholics and drug addicts and paid with liquor to do the deeds no one else in the party wished to do, lacking social or other skills.
As in other del Toro vehicles, Nightmare Alley wrangles in our worst inner demons. Was it the chicken or the egg? Was a person born bad or brought that way by society? Is Stanton to blame for feeding our insecurities as humans or are we to blame for giving him the slack and feeding into it?
There's a brilliant scene where Stanton convinces the local Sheriff (played by Jim Beaver) that his contributions are relevant and respected - all this based upon human reading, his necklace, physical attributes, emotional intuition - and that Stanton's abilities are REAL. It preys so much upon our human ability to ignore the finite and our naiveté in being mesmerized by the dream of what if and idealism.
Mary Steenburgen gives light and darkness to the voice of lost possibilities (enabled by a false prophet) and human tragedy.
Rooney Mara gives a solid performance as Molly of reason and grounding, tying Stanton to reality and the chains that he ultimately cannot break free from (despite his faults we do believe in their love). Cate Blanchett as Dr. Ritter serves as his rectifier, his fate - the temptation he cannot deny and thus accepts his true self.
He claims ironically, after all is said and done, "It's what I was born to do."
Regretfully, our supporting cast receives little screen time. Toni Collette, as our inherit psychic, is as enchanting as always, but underutilized. Willem Defoe and Ron Perlman are minor characters, though they do carry some weight. We would have liked to see them more.
It's not the strongest effort we've seen from del Toro, but it's certainly worth your while. It's intoxicating and magical, and whether you believe the fantasy or not it's all on gorgeous display.
Leviticus 20:7: “Any man or woman who consults with the spirits of the dead shall be put to death. For they are a witch, and their blood shall be on their own hands.”
“This is her revenge. This is her ritual.”
With as much hype as this film got, I was super excited to see it and also bummed that it was one of a handful I missed at Fantastic Fest 2016.
It's an above-average horror film with strong character development, great acting, good special effects, superb production, a few jump scares, and interesting turns that keep us intrigued throughout the plotline. If you’re a fan of supernatural horror, this one’s probably for you.
The basic concept itself is unique: while investigating a domestic crime scene, the Sherriff finds a dead body, seemingly unharmed and in remarkably good condition, half-buried in the basement. She’s of no relation to the house owners, no identification, and there’s no sign of forced entry, so he drives her to the Tilden Crematorium as the press will undoubtedly want answers about the mysterious body the following morning. It’s through her autopsy that the secrets of her death and origin are revealed, which turns out to be a hair-raising and supernatural experience.
Character motivations progress as Tommy Tilden, the head of the three generations who have owned and run the facility, states: “Leave the ‘why’ to the cops and the shrinks. We’re just here to define cause of death – no more, no less.” Yet as the night treads on, he’s compelled to surpass his role as the mere forensic pathologist and solve the mystery of Jane’s untimely end. Or is it just the beginning? As Austin states, “If we can just figure out how she died, we can figure out how to stop her.”
Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox are Austin and Tommy Tilden, father and son duo. Tommy serves as the mentor figure, challenging his son to learn at every turn. The mother/wife is deceased, and the resident Crematorium, rat-hunting cat, Stanley, is the only remainder of her existence. Austin is dating girlfriend Emma, and the two have planned a move or get-away unknown to Tommy. Austin berates the idea of being a forensic pathologist for the rest of his life and dismisses following in the footsteps of his father, although he does bear an obligation to Tommy out of family duty and the shared loss of the mother.
Despite Emma’s presence in Austin’s life, she’s never before visited the Crematorium. She’s eager to see a dead body, and Tommy encourages her participation. He explains the bells hung from dead bodies’ wrists, at one time in history meant to indicate that they were in fact still alive. This is also akin to myths and folklore in cemeteries where ghost hunters often claim to hear bells ringing in the distance. It’s a haunting element at play throughout the entire film. Damn that spooky-ass bell!
So Jane’s autopsy begins! There are a slew of injuries: broken wrists and ankles, gray eyes which imply she’s been dead for days yet a body which shows no signs of rigor mortis, an abnormally small waist linked to the usage of a corset (ala Victorian period centuries earlier), blackened lungs, tissue possibly consumed in melanoma, shattered joints, a severed tongue, vaginal trauma, and the lists gets weirder. They ponder sexual servitude or abuse and torture of some kind, but the results are so confounding that they’re unable to arrive at a solid conclusion. Yet.
And her blood. Her nose starts bleeding mid-autopsy after the discovery of a missing tooth, and a fly crawls out of one nostril. When Austin takes a blood sample, it inexplicably overflows and spills onto the refrigerator racks and floor beneath minutes later. What’s up with that?
Father and son have a habit of drawing out their observations on a chalkboard. The deeper they get into the procedure, the more strange things begin happening. The radio begins switching channels and playing by itself, sometimes sounds of a struggle or ominous words, other times a song: “Open up your heart, and let the sunshine in.”
It’s important to note that the mother was called, by Tommy, Ray – as in a ray of sunshine. Always bright and laughing despite her dark surroundings and her suggested misery (it’s implied she committed suicide). Is the playing of this song meant to agonize Tommy? Or is it just a coincidence?
There are weird noises and movements abound throughout the facility after the presence of Jane’s body. And for some reason poor Stanley is affected, Austin finding him hiding and dying in an air duct. Tommy is forced to put him out of his misery by snapping his neck. Is Stanley’s death due to old age? A bad rat? Or because of Jane? But really, as Austin urges, everything that night is all her. It’s all because of Jane. They find Jimson Weed in Jane’s gastrointestinal system, a paralysis agent, as well as peat moss beneath her nails and in her hair, which are native to the north and leads us to her origin: the northeast, Salem perhaps?
Then there’s a tooth (the missing molar!), wrapped in a cloth scrawled with odd, ritualistic emblems and roman numerals, buried within her organs.
Okay, so she’s a witch! And she prepared her body with ritualistic objects and scriptures to haunt and torment her assailants, or anyone else who messed with her body throughout the witch hunt of the Salem Trials. She gets credit for fucking with the people who attempted to destroy her but simultaneously has this hardened evilness that eliminates audience empathy. Sorry, Jane, that you were hunted and tortured … but you’re kind of an evil bitch!
The ability to reanimate other dead bodies to serve as minions of her army and then heal her wounds (and actually regrow her removed organs?) suggests that she’s been passed around from house to house, cemetery to cemetery, crematorium to crematorium. Every time she’s found, she appears good as new, only to attack her saviors.
Was this her original intent? To permanently cause the death and torture of anyone who messes with her body? Or was it meant as a defense mechanism to save her from death? Is she dead or undead? Is she trapped in some kind of astral, supernatural plane? It’s more likely that she said, “fuck these bitches, if I’m going out I’m going to make it good,” with no regard for the outcome of anyone, innocent or not, who ends up engaging with her.
At a point we get the classic ghost story plot: what are you trying to tell me about your death that will allow me to help you pass on? It’s a mechanism we hope works positively for Tommy and Austin, but ultimately does not. Jane is sadistic. She’s more concerned with punishing her offenders.
It’s this really that left me slightly dissatisfied. While I wouldn’t have wanted a flashback to her torture and trial where we feel a forced empathy, I would have liked something a bit more intriguing than she’s simply a witch who encased her own body in ritualistic elements that kill anyone who touches her. I would have rather uttered, “Holy shit, that’s crazy!” than “Oh, okay, she’s a witch.”
But what would have made it more interesting? What would have happened if Tommy and Austin were able to destroy Jane’s body? Would this have given her some kind of release? Does it even matter? I honestly felt an homage to Silence of the Lambs (discovering the Jimson Weed was similar to the cocoon) and the concept of finding clues within the bodies of serial killers’ victims.
Except in this case Jane was the victim of others as well as of herself. Is she satisfied somewhere knowing that her assailants are punished and brutally killed? Or is she living in a state of purgatory? Or has she truly passed on to the next place with no regard for the body she’s left behind which has powers of its own?
Let’s focus on the good: the character development is great. In fact we spend almost the first half of the film building up Austin and Tommy only to witness their demise. I wish we could have felt this strong connection to Jane as well to give the story a deeper level of complexity.
There’s plenty of gore in the sense that we focus on forensic pathologists who spend their waking hours dissecting the dead. And the dead are then brought to life under the spell of Jane. There are dark hallways filled with fog and smoke and reanimated bodies lurking in the shadows.
But we also lack any kind of brutal death scenes. Most often we find the victim already dying after an obscured depiction of the attack. I’m not asking for torture porn here, but a little more explanation than, “I’m evil, and you’re going to die … somehow” would have been appreciated.
Emma’s death scene seems trivial with no clues to her struggle. We feel sympathy mainly for Austin, as we’ve developed more of a bond with him than her.
The autopsy process ends with the brain.
“That’s why we couldn’t find cause of death. She’s still alive!”
“We lit her on fire. We took out her heart.”
“There’s something. There’s some energy – call it what you want. Something is keeping her going.” Leviticus 20:7: “Any man or woman who consults with the spirits of the dead shall be put to death. For they are a witch, and their blood shall be on their own hands.”
I do love that the pair have a vast library that they reference for botany, anatomy or any kind of historical information.
In one of the most brutal scenes, after Tommy implores Jane about helping her, he suffers his limbs and organs being broken and stolen – this is how Jane heals and reforms her body to look unharmed. As Tommy’s bones and joints are broken and torn, we see her incisions and disfigurations heal. We see her eyes return to a healthy brown from gray as the life fades from Tommy.
In the end, everyone dies. And we give it props for that element of darkness. All the reanimated bodies are back in their places when the police return to investigate.
Jane is off to another autopsy, in the same condition as she was originally found – seemingly flawless. The driver defuses his girlfriend, but Jane’s already fucking with the radio.
“Open up your heart, and let she sunshine in. Face it with a grin. Smilers never lose, and frowners never win. So let the sunshine in.”
What’s the significance of the song? Are we to think that Jane carries with her the souls of her taken victims, and that this is Tommy? Or is it just a random song from olden days that coincides with Tommy’s wife and somehow Jane? Or is it just plain creepy? Given that earlier we heard sounds of a struggle and warnings across the radio, it shouldn’t be ruled out that the radio communicates voices of those Jane has taken.
We end with the bell tinkle.
Good luck, Ruxton or VCU! You’re going to need it. What do you think? Leave comments below, and thanks for reading!
Definitely worth a watch and now streaming on Netflix, I Don't Feel at Home Here Anymore is a film about missing elements – absent connections, stolen objects, fears, failures, incomplete desires, and our longing to fill those voids with something, or someone, tangible, hopeful and good. It’s also about the hollowness of suburban life, justice, the consequences of our choices, and accepting our places in this world. Filled with dark and often awkward humor, it travels down an offbeat path to a startling and thought-provoking conclusion. This low-budget black comedy thriller stars Melanie Linskey as Ruth, a nursing assistant who is disillusioned and bored with her job. I enjoyed Linskey in XX but was disappointed with that film overall, so it’s nice to see her in a primary role and a more well-crafted film. Both Linskey and Elijah Wood shine in this film, Linskey with her misappropriated social anxiety and Wood with his eccentric kung fu antics and humor, and there’s also the welcome presence of Jane Levy, although vastly under-utilized.
The title comes from the country song “I Can’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore” (played later in the film) by Unity Road, and the setting and style suggest the story takes place somewhere in the south, possibly Louisiana.
We start with a patient dying, murmuring obscene sexual fantasies. This is Ruth’s daily life. She drinks a lot and hangs out at bars reading fantasy novels to presumably escape reality. When a rando guy realizes what she’s reading, he proceeds to ruin the series for her, robbing her of that one, great moment before casually slipping off without acknowledging his misdeed. We get the sense that Ruth has little to look forward to in life and often feels a victim.
She gets home (with a self-made “no dog poop” sign in the yard) to realize that she has been robbed and files a report with the police for her missing laptop, grandmother’s silver and medicine (Clonazepam and Lexapro – both used for treating anxiety and depression). The detective asks about location apps on the laptop, but she says it’s turned off.
He seems to blame Ruth for leaving her door unlocked as there’s no sign of forced entry, encourages her to improve her home security and dismisses the case as unimportant.
She calls her best friend, Trixie, and in a scene in which we think she’s condifing the “violation” of the robbery, which bothers her more than the stolen belongings, it turns out she’s actually in the midst of reading a bedtime story to Trixie‘s daughter. The bedtime story seems to only pique Ruth’s anxiety and fears, explaining the infiniteness of the universe, prompting her to tears and upsetting the child. Over smoking a bowl, Ruth talks to Trixie about the patient who died earlier. She’s not affected by the woman’s death in particular but seems more concerned with the idea of people becoming dead bodies and ultimately ash or carbon. Her grandmother, a war nurse who Ruth admired, died of a stroke. This leads her back to the missing silver, the only tangible reminder of her deceased grandmother and the notion that people treat each other like shit.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m underneath a whirlpool, and I can’t even breathe.”
"Sometimes I feel like I'm underneath a whirlpool ... and I can't even breathe."
All this suggests that Ruth lives in a state of routine disappointment, suffers from anxiety and fear of the world around her and has been on the verge of snapping for some time. With her medicine now stolen, who’s to say whether or not this influences her eventual decision to stand up and fight the system, so to speak.
She spends the night, to the husband’s annoyance, and is awakened by the daughter, who’s sweetly drawn a picture of Ruth riding a stegosaurus. “I fucking love it.” We understand that Ruth craves empowerment.
"Is this a dragon?" "Stegosaurus." "I fucking love it."
Back at home, neighbor Tony, fantastically played by Elijah Wood, makes the mistake of allowing his dog, Kevin, to poop in Ruth’s shit-free yard. Ruth runs after him and hurls the magazine-wrapped turd at him. He’s clearly confused by Ruth’s offense, scoops the waste up and walks off.
Inside, Ruth cleans up and looks for clues of the robbers. After finding a broken light and footprint in her backyard, she makes a cast of it to determine the foot size then questions all the neighbors if they’ve seen anyone suspicious, but no one has any real leads.
Eventually she ends up at Tony’s, who’s in the backyard blasting rock music and pumping iron. “That’s not me. Leaving a BM in your yard? That’s not who I am. I was embarrassed. Sometimes I just get so deep in my thoughts, ya know? And I don’t even notice what Kevin’s doing.”
He offers to let her hit him to balance the energy between them, which weirds her out. She tells him about the robbery, and he seems unnaturally angry from her news and smashes the corner of a table with his num-chuks. Back at home, and of course drinking, Ruth fires up her location app to discover her laptop online and calls the police to inform them. But they can’t help her as they need a search warrant and only offer to add her information to the police report.
"It's on my fucking phone!!"
So she decides to take things into her own hands and checks out the address, where a group of young punks are hanging out and messing around with potato launchers in the front lawn. Afraid to confront them alone, she calls her best friend’s husband but ultimately ends up at Tony’s requesting his help.
Tony wears glasses, a rat-tail braid, a porn stache, and kisses his cross necklace in prayer before they exit the car. When the door man dismisses Ruth’s claim to her laptop inside, Tony pops him in the face with his num-chucks, then busts through the door, hurling his ninja star into the wall and tossing a firecracker on the floor.
Ruth uses the location app to sound an alarm from her laptop, on the table surrounded by the young punks. The group is in such disbelief that they calmly allow her to take it back while Ruth chastises them about their poor behavior. Turns out they bought the laptop from a consignment shop and have no idea where her silver or medicine is. They write the address down for her. Tony’s retrieval of his ninja star, now stuck in the wall, is pretty hilarious.
“That’s how hard I threw it.”
The rest of the night is spent drinking and dancing merrily. It seems Ruth and Tony make an unlikely pair, both feeling rejuvenated and positive after their successful confrontation. But who has her silver and her medicine? Devon Graye plays Christian (appropriately named) who makes his rounds crashing parties and sneaking into houses to steal. Jane Levy plays Dez, a member of a drug-using group in the woods led by Marshall. Christian trades stolen jewels to get his fix. They seem to be headed toward some higher goal or plan. “We’re almost there, my monkeys.”
Visiting the address the punks gave them, Tony says, “Maybe we should hold hands. Like we’re engaged.” There is definitely romantic interest at play.
But the old man running the junk shop seems a little eccentric and out of his gourd, wishing only to impress them with his keyboard. They do, however, find her silver stashed on a shelf in the back. Recovering it brings back visions of Ruth’s grandmother, but are we sure it’s actually her grandmother’s box? Or is she just latching onto what could be a suitable replacement? Is Sally Kimke her real grandmother? Or are the lack of medication and the circumstances driving her over the edge?
Ruth attempts to slip out but then notices the shoes of the young man visiting with the store owner. Recognizing him as her assailant, she follows him. The old man takes off after her demanding payment, but she dismisses him saying, “it’s stolen property.” She hits him in the face with the corner of the box when he grabs her arm. Immediately feeling sorry, she apologizes, but he responds by breaking her finger. Tony saves the day, hitting him in the face and bragging about his “side kick.”
After a visit to the hospital, Ruth is high on pain meds as Tony drives them home.
“What are we doing here – in the world?”
“Trying to be good. Or to be better.”
“Am I good?” Ruth confesses a fear of death, saying everything is just going to be black like when you turn off the TV. He encourages her to visit his church, saying how funny the reverend is. They end up holding hands in the pews and later walking the dog down a street cast in golden sunset, the image of a happy couple. She later rests her head on his shoulder. This feels safe and warm.
Back with the gang of monkeys, they receive a bag of weapons. It’s a stick up, so apparently they’re planning a larger heist.
Tony and Ruth look up the tag number of Christian’s car from their visit to the junk yard the previous day. She discovers he’s reading the same fantasy novel, but he asks her not to spoil it for him – he hates that. They seem to be on the same wavelength.
After determining Christian’s identity, Ruth brings the detective the imprint of his shoe and the print-out of his info from Tony’s websurfing, but he dismisses her as having insufficient evidence and asks her if she’s been able to restart her medication.
“The world is bigger than your silverware. People are experiencing bigger problems.”
Then even the detective breaks down about his own issues – his wife is leaving him. And tells her to go home.
So they get a fake police badge from a box of Fruit Loops at the grocery store and take off once more on their own. Christian’s home is large and wealthy, and his front door is answered by a suzie homemaker type who is pleasant and friendly. Apparently this is his step mom. When questioned about Christian’s whereabouts, she implies that he has a history of bad decision making.
When served coffee, Tony charmingly brags about his barista skills from working at Borders.
“I got pretty good with the steamer. Could do smiley faces, winking faces. Certain kinds of centaurs, oak leaves, snowmen, diagram of an atom. Flaming swords, Kevin.”
Stepmom informs us that Chris Junior got into drugs and went to jail, then got involved with a bad group. “He made me nervous. Did you ever see The Omen?”
Chris Senior comes home, and the bodyguard, Cesar, frisks Ruth and Tony. Husband and wife enter a domestic dispute. She admits she let them into the house because she’s bored while the bodyguard audibly and comically clears the remaining rooms of the house.
He questions them about their purpose for being in his home, and Ruth explains that she had intended to confront Chris Junior. “You can’t do that to people.” Chris Senior laughs at and berates her, asking what she expected to happen, and says, “People can do anything if you let them. Welcome to the world.” When asked about a payoff, Ruth seems offended.
“What do you want?”
“For people to not be assholes.”
“You can tell yourself you did something here. Really took a stand.” Ruth vandalizes the property as they leave empty-handed, disfiguring his topiary figures and stealing their tiger. Tony is angry with Ruth for stealing. She accuses him of not supporting her, mocking, “What would Jesus do?” He’s clearly offended, and now she’s pushed away her only real support system.
Back at home, Chris breaks into her house, and she (ironically) immediately hits him in the throat with the foot imprint. He runs off to the van of monkeys, but is hit by a bus before he reaches them. Ruth dials 911, but before she can finish her explanation, Dez bashes her in the face with the butt of a gun.
She awakens to Dez and Marshall cloaked in t-shirt masks.
“You have such beautiful black little eyes.”
When a crowd gathers outside as an ambulance wheels away Christian’s body, Tony visits Ruth’s house to find her missing.
Now things get crazy.
Dez and Marshall force Ruth to participate in their robbery. As it turns out, the house they’re robbing is Chris’ parents’. The stepmom yells at her for stealing her tiger. Dez blows off Chris Senior’s hand, and Marhsall shoots Cesar in the gut and neck while Ruth pukes all over the floor. After raiding the safe in the fireplace, they’re about to finish everyone off, but Ruth steps in front of Dez, saying she’s not going to let them shoot anyone else and she’ll have to kill her first. Just as Dez is about to pull the trigger, she receives a ninja star to the face, courtesy of (who else?) Tony.
But the janky shotgun backfires in Dez’s hands, and then Marshall blasts Chris Senior in the head. Dez stabs Tony repeatedly in the gut, and Ruth fights with Marshall over his handgun. Bullets ricochet off the fireplace and hit Dez in the head, and Ruth knocks Marshall unconscious. Except he’s not. And he fires shots after them as they flee. The stepmom takes off, running down the road.
It’s a chase through the woods with Marshall yelling from behind. They find a boat docked on the shore of a lake and take off. Tony starts fading, and Ruth rows to the other side of the water, where she stashes Tony beneath some foliage and promises to come back for him.
Marshall is close behind and follows in another boat. She falls into a pool of water with a snake who slithers past yet she remains unharmed.
Finally Marshall tracks her down, leaving her vulnerable and weaponless except for the rocks on the ground.
“You do those tattoos yourself? They look fucking stupid.”
“What the fuck do you know? Have you ever eaten cat meat?”
She throws a rock at his forehead and then chest, landing him in the water she previously fell into, and he’s then bitten by the snake on the face. Ruth runs off to return to Tony while Marshall deals with the snake hanging from his cheek. Fearing she’s lost in the woods, Ruth’s grandmother suddenly appears and points her in the right direction. Ruth carries Tony’s body back across the water in the boat while Marshall presumably dies alone in the woods.
Then the results unfold: The stepmom shakes her head when shown a picture of Ruth as a suspect by the police.
Ruth gets off without any criminal charges, and the detective tells Ruth he and his wife are going to try and work things out.
Ruth continues to go to Tony’s church, but it seems she’s still feeling an emptiness. While sitting with Trixie and her daughter in her backyard she looks distracted.
“Just be gentle with yourself, alright? You’ve got all the time in the world.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It’s just something people say.”
Ruth has a vision of Tony encased in a red, smoky swirl … but it turns out it’s actually him, alive, and standing over the grill with her best friend’s husband. Yet we zoom in on Ruth’s disquieted face. Something is still missing.
We’re legitimately led to believe that Tony didn’t make it. The fact that he’s survived, and the group is gathering in a couples’ environment, leads us to conclude that Tony and Ruth are now together, and all should be well. That Ruth is going to church and attempting to better herself. But clearly Ruth is still missing something – dissatisfaction with her job, her life, her lovelife, her spirituality, her fears of death and the universe perhaps still present. And that’s what started us on this crazy goose-chase to begin with – the desire to reclaim what has been taken, or to overcome loss, and to embrace a sense of justice or purpose in the world. The real enemy here isn’t a robber or a rude and inconsiderate stranger, it’s our own selves and confronting and dealing with the losses and emptiness within us.
It’s also important to consider the character of Christian, who, as his father states, has been given every advantage and opportunity possible compared to 99% of the population. A boy who disregards this and chooses to be “bad” according to society contrasts with Ruth, a woman we presume has not been given as many advantages and opportunities – yet both feel dissatisfied and empty. What did you guys think of I Don’t Feel at Home Here Anymore? Do you have suggestions for videos on streaming for us to discuss? Leave your comments below, and let us know your thoughts!
Trivia: How many times is the word "bullshit" used in this movie? If you know the answer, reply in the comments below!
Naked, Greasy Strangler with a large, weird penis
Eyeballs popping out of heads, followed by
Eyeball dining/fine cuisine (yes, that's a thing)
Crotch-exposing disco attire
Sleazy disco dancing
Porto chips (explanation below)
Ritualistic car wash bathing
Trailer-toilet death scene
Weird dude with a fake pig nose
Champagne and confetti-exploding heads
"Hootie tootie disco cutie!" chant
Catchy electronic score
CAUTION: This review provides an in-depth analysis as well as SPOILERS. For less detail and a summary, read the intro below and then skip to the ending for Final Take.
Let's start with the obvious: every lead character in this film is a self-proclaimed "bullshit artist," and none of them are really likable or decent people, but their antics do inspire plenty of guffaws, gross-out moments and wtf-head-rubbing. In addition, we have some pretty comical practical effects and ridiculous death scenes paired with awkward dialogue and a kick-ass electronic score by Andrew Hung, member of Fuck Buttons for any fans out there, which accentuates its bizarre flavor of dark comedy. All of these qualities have contributed to its status as a new cult classic.
This is no traditional horror movie by any stretch of the imagination. The oddball characters and offbeat humor, combined with an unusual fixation on 70's disco era and food, make this more of a twisted comedy with fantastical elements than a frightening, edge-of your-seat slasher.
If you ask me what a huge, dorky fan I am of this movie, I'll say I didn't hesitate for a second to buy the Hootie Tootie Disco Cutie tee or the original motion picture soundtrack LP from Mondo the moment they released. Suffice to say that accompanying the music are visual images and dialogue which will never leave your poor, violated brain. What has been seen cannot be unseen. The setup: Ronnie and his son Brayden live together in a ramshackle house and pay the bills by giving walking disco tours in matching hot pink outfits and knee-socks. Note: despite what the brochures say, there are NO FREE DRINKS! And if you're wondering how two men survive on the income of a walking disco tour career, well, Ronnie seems to pay everyone with fake money.
So what is The Greasy Strangler about? Really it's the story of the dangerously intertwined dynamic between father and son and the psychological unraveling that ensues when a female threatens to tear them apart. Also, there is disco. And a lot of hot dogs.
Among themes, there are of course: an intense focus on food (even body parts as food), preferably drenched in gluttonous portions of grease, and mostly hot dogs; genitalia and overflowing pubic hair (we'll go over that more a bit later), abundant nudity (not necessarily in a good way, so don't get too excited) and eyeballs (yes, eyeballs); familial relationships, particularly that between father and son; disco era obsession; strangling and physical violence; oddball humor; bodily functions, mostly crapping and farting; and the women who got away (Ronnie's ex-wife and Brayden's mother, as well as the romantic interest, Janet).
From the very first scene, Ronnie is already saying,"I bet you think I'm The Greasy Strangler."
We're exposed to the toxic and completely dysfunctional relationship between Ronnie and Brayden. Each morning, Brayden brings Ronnie a cup of coffee in bed, followed by typical bickering and playful banter. And farting. "Bullshit artist!" is a term you'll hear quite frequently, and you will learn to love it by the film's end.
These two are trapped in a seriously co-dependent relationship as neither of them does anything without the other. Any time Brayden considers excluding Ronnie, his father threatens him with eviction. And although Ronnie refuses to be separated from Brayden for even minutes at a time, he also never hesitates to insult or put him down both in private and in public. So the dynamic is somewhat love-hate and, grease aside, vastly unhealthy.
Every shot is dingy, dark and dirty (well, greasy), exacerbating the stifling feel of claustrophobia already oozing out the cracks of their shoddy home. Something is greasy, and it's dying to break out!
The atmospheric palette is painted in primary colors: deep reds, greens, blues, and yellows with splashes of tacky neons. The characters move and speak often surrealistically, with Andrew Hung's funky beats pulsating beneath the rays of an invisible, omniscient disco light.
At home, everyone is typically either completely naked or in their underwear, and often there is public indecency with Ronnie mooning his tour guests or exposing his genitilia at the disco. And The Greasy Strangler is clad only in, well, grease.
Ronnie is an aging divorced man who has raised his son Brayden from childbirth after his wife left. Beyond managing the disco tour, Ronnie's previous employment and education history is unknown. What is known is that he loves disco. And grease. He fabricates friendships with celebrities and wallows in the former glory of his disco days. Though he is dependent on Brayden for virtually everything, he makes a crass and monstrously immature father figure.
Brayden adopts the pitiable, dorky son role well, complete with ambition to write a fantasy audiobook series about dragons and trolls. Ronnie's constant verbal abuse combined with the alleged molestation suffered from his stepfather, Ricky Prickles, have misshapen the 40-something-year-old Brayden into an underdeveloped, weak little boy.
Brayden's developmental oppression is also conveyed physically or sexually in penis sizes - throughout the consistent exhibition of pubic areas, Ronnie is always shown with an abnormally large and oddly pointed penis with a red, triangular tip while Brayden's is a micro-sized version of the same peculiar shape. Ronnie is the alpha.
Whereas Ronnie's path deals with the transformation and struggle of being overtaken by The Greasy Strangler, the arc of Brayden, essentially our only protagonist, involves deciding what kind of man he wants to be and whether or not he will finally break free from his father's suffocating presence.
Along comes Janet. She and Brayden engage flirtatiously one day on a disco tour, and immediately Ronnie is jealous. He attempts to squelch Brayden's excitement by telling him that Janet will never love him. But Brayden is not dissuaded, and the two have a creepily romantic dinner conversation over, of course, hot dogs.
Brayden tells Janet the sad tale of his mother leaving for Ricky Prickles, a professional sports coach with chiseled abs. Ricky Prickles embodies the exact opposite lifestyle and physique from the grease-obsessed Ronnie and Brayden. He bullied child-Brayden for not being able to perform sit-ups, but Janet dismisses his inept athleticism.
Grief and anger clearly resonate within both father and son from the mother's departure. Brayden suppresses emotional and psychological scars from his stepfather's abuse. Ronnie continuously blames her leaving on his son's compulsion to crap everywhere, including on the TV and all over his mother's leg. The latter he cites specifically as the exact reason for her leaving: "She even yelled it out the car window!"
Just as the two seem to have fought over the mother, they will now focus on Janet as the object of desire.
Love blossoms between Brayden and Janet, and The Greasy Strangler is disturbed. A group of walking disco tour attendees, presumably all tourists coincidentally staying at the same hotel, debate the pronunciation of potato ("porto") chips in a scene which highlights the use of repetitive dialogue inherent to the film's delirious humor. As they are grouped around the vending machine, low and behold, who happens to appear?
"Is he the Boogie Woogie?!" And yes, we have another disco reference.
It's our first glimpse of the film's "monster," and there's no denying that the The Greasy Strangler is indeed Ronnie. Who else has that penis and that full head of crazy, gray hair? Strangling aside, he also attacks by bashing a guy's head through the vending machine glass and smashing a dude's face in with his fist.
He never speaks but utters the guttural, primal noises of a beast, all to the backdrop of Hung's hauntingly alien score. Later he viciously chokes a defecating hot dog vendor until his eyes pop out of his head. The organs are then rolled in batter, sautéed in oil and devoured by candlelight like a rare delicacy. Is the Greasy Strangler an eyeball connoisseur?
After hunting, the Strangler always rinses off at the local car wash, chit-chatting with Big Paul, the blind car wash attendant and friend from Ronnie's disco-loving past. Ronnie pays him with some of his fake dollar bills (he doesn't know, he's blind!), then dresses in the bathroom.
So what really is The Greasy Strangler? A creature? A physical transformation? A supernatural possession?
By covering his naked body in liberal portions of grease, Ronnie morphs into a killing machine, or the alter ego of The Greasy Strangler. Whether or not he has super powers is up for debate, but the face smashing and strangling with little defense from his victims suggests that he is in some way uniquely powerful. Other than his strange genitilia, which dangles in Greasy-form and non, there don't seem to be any type of physical or structural changes. But violence and death are definitely on the agenda.
As Brayden and Janet's relationship intensifies, so do the Greasy Strangler killings. Janet confides in Brayden that she's scared because her fellow disco tour attendees have been reportedly murdered, and it's not too soon afterward that we are introduced to Oinker.
Oinker appropriately wears a fake pig nose and walks the streets in minishorts and knee socks. Their hangout sessions include attending the Horror Show (a local cinema) and stealing buckets of grease from a vigil-lighted street vendor (the hot dog stand owner who was previously murdered).
Oinker is soon found dead, his fake nose removed to reveal a gaping hole. What is this? A medieval syphilis reference? Is Oinker a previous victim who got away with one less body part? Has the Strangler moved on from noses to eyeballs?
When Brayden is informed of his best friend's death, he declares that he won't stop until he solves the mystery of The Greasy Strangler and kills him. Ronnie takes advantage of his son's preoccupation with the murders to swoop in and woo Janet for himself. His motives are unclear here: is he trying to get laid or just break up the romance between Janet and Brayden? Most likely both. He's an appallingly selfish bastard.
Janet initially rebukes Ronnie, confessing her love for Brayden. But she ultimately succumbs to his persistently lewd advances. After an evening of what can only be described as languid, boozy dancing at the disco, he impresses her with an embellished story about clubbing with MJ. Brayden later reveals that MJ was a Michael Jackson look alike and male prostitute who recently shot himself.
Mating tactics include boasting, exposing his large member in outrageous, crotchless disco attire, and lasciviously fondling fruit to win his female. He's not unlike a peacock pruning his feathers. He also emphasizes Brayden's lack of sexual experience. His son has never had a girlfriend, he says, because he craps everywhere.
Eventually Janet can no longer resist her base desires, and she and Ronnie initiate a whirlwind sexcapade. Brayden, sobbing to the sounds of thumping and the boisterous, ceaseless shouting of "Hootie tootie disco cutie!" from above, is truly heartbroken.
But as he continues investigating the identity of The Greasy Strangler, clues point strongly to Ronnie. In an earlier dinner scene between the three, his father alludes to a "special oil" he's been developing in his room, and Brayden soon finds it.
After many tormenting nights, Brayden can no longer deny his feelings and confesses his love to Janet in the kitchen. She seems successfully swayed back to his affections, perhaps choosing pure ardor over sexual intensity.
By this time, Brayden has discovered some suspicious drawings by his father and is convinced that Ronnie is in fact The Greasy Strangler. Shortly after, Janet discovers a pile of unusual grease on the floor upstairs. What is this "special oil" that Ronnie has been making?
The two decide to call in the help of an investigator named Jodie, who, once again, is Ronnie in disguise. Where did Jodie even come from? We can only surmise that Ronnie intentionally led them to him.
Arriving for investigation, Jodie sensually traces his 6-inch, neon yellow fingernails through the slop and declares that Brayden's assumptions are correct. He also needs to oil his glasses.
Before disappearing, Jodie stares into the hallway mirror. He takes off his glasses, but a moment later his reflection appears as Ronnie glaring back, with Jodie still donning his glasses as though never removed. Reflection-Ronnie then demands that Jodie leave. What is the significance of this? Is Jodie yet another personality or identity which Ronnie's psyche is utilizing to prevent the Greasy Strangler from fully taking over?
Now that Janet and Brayden are back together, Ronnie is quickly unraveling. He writhes beneath their bed, enduring their lovemaking for only moments before he wriggles out in jealous protest. Brayden is knocked unconscious and must find the missing Janet before The Greasy Strangler kills her.
Following a trail down the hallway, Brayden finds a large tub of "special" grease behind a door. In hopes of overpowering his father, he strips down and submerges beneath the goo, yelling defiantly, "I can be the Greasy Strangler, too!" He emerges in the same greasy guise as Ronnie in Strangler form, micropenis still intact. It's Greasy Strangler, Jr.!!
Brayden finds Janet and his father at the Horror Show, mid-strangling. Surely father and son will square off in an epic battle and Brayden will heroically save his true love! Bullshit. Perhaps now even more under the influence of his father's dark side, thanks to his grease-dunking, Brayden instead succumbs to the laws of the Greasy, and together they clench Janet's throat until her eyes pop out.
Holding hands, they walk to the car wash together to engage in the ritualistic cleansing.
With the female threat eliminated, father and son bond on the beach. Ronnie tells another presumably fake celebrity tale, this time of sailing on John Travolta's yacht. In one of the only tender moments exchanged between father and son, Ronnie acknowledges that he does like Brayden. Sometimes. If he wasn't such a cock block! But Brayden's admiration for his father seems unchanged, and these two resign themselves to their fate: being Greasy Stranglers ... in the wild.
The next mission: kill Ricky Prickles.
Ricky is chased down the hills and slaughtered by the wild Stranglers. In celebration, they romp gleefully through the woods holding hands and then stop unexpectedly to witness a group of men standing in a clearing with guns raised. The pair stares transfixed at their human forms, Ronnie and Brayden, tied to trees as the clear targets.
What's happening here? Who are these men? Townspeople who've hunted the local killers down? Friends of Ricky Prickles? Are they imagining this? How are they in both human form and Greasy form at once? The clear, physical separation of four distinct bodies implies an official split in both mens' identities, more pronounced this time than the Jodie-Ronnie reflection standoff. The Greasy and the human cannot exist simultaneously. Shots are fired, and Ronnie and Brayden's heads explode, fantastically spewing forth geysers of champagne and confetti.
Afterward, we see the two Stranglers embarking on the hills of the woods with spears in hand. Greasy Strangler Senior and Junior abandon their human forms in favor of a primitive life.
So what the hell did all that craziness mean? And why should you care?
Ultimately, The Greasy Strangler is a film about primitive needs and carnal desires: crapping, farting, screwing, killing, laughing, eating, music, and dancing, as well as the instincts to protect your family and the pursuit of freedom.
The primary coloring of the artistic vision and Hung's wild synth score, hitting beats with the tenacity of a hunter's drum, accentuate the tribal motifs at play.
In escaping the confinement of their human shells and retreating to the foothills to live freely, naked and adorned only with spears to catch their prey, both Brayden and Ronnie are able to live simply in accordance to their true, primal natures.
The metaphysical rules here are in question. Did Brayden and Ronnie actually die in human form to release their Greasy inner selves onto some sort of primordial, astrological plane? Or was the death scene some sort of metaphorical departure from their physically human selves? Are they actually just trapsing around the woods behind their house coated in a lot of grease? Does The Greasy Strangler actually have super human powers, and did Ronnie's "special oil" help to accelerate or strengthen his existing grease formula to produce an even more powerful Strangler? Maybe one capable of transgressing earthly dimensions?
What do you think? In the most positive and admirable way, I call bullshit.