Sunday, July 17, 2016

FAIRLANE ROAD (2016) [Paul's Review]

I’m going to begin this review of Fairlane Road by talking about the now-ancient videogame, Resident Evil.  But since the internet tells me that search engines won’t find this post if the first paragraph doesn’t contain some keywords . . . “Fairlane Road Review Fairlane Road Review Fairlane Road Review.”  This paragraph was written for you, Google robot.  Enjoy!  Or whatever it is you robots have instead of pleasure.

The original Resident Evil also sounded as if it were written for robots by robots who enjoy robot acting.  If you’re unfamiliar, check out this video and wonder agape at how Resident Evil became one of the most prolific horror franchises in modern history.  There are probably a lot of reasons why RE was successful despite its acting, but I’m going to take the insane stand that the horrible voice work actually contributed to its success. 

I don’t mean this ironically, like it was so bad it was funny.  And it is so bad that it’s funny . . . now.  But I remember back in 1996, playing the game in the darkened and smoke-filled college apartment and being terrified by the game and feeling sort of uneasy by the off-kilter, mechanical dialogue.  The acting was so bad it was creepy. 

It’s like, if you woke up and everyone started talking about “master of unlocking” and “Jill sandwiches” and wondering all the time “what is this?” and taking an unnecessarily long pause, staring at you with dead pixelated eyes before saying, “hi.”  It would stop being funny and start being a nightmare. 
Now, wake up google robot, because we’re getting back to the Fairlane Road Review.  Oh, you were awake already.  You NEVER sleep?  Jesus, that’s creepy too.

The whole point of this preface is to say that, while the acting in Fairlane Road might seem at first horribly flat and deadened, it gains an uncanny creepiness in proportion to its lifelessness.  I’m not sure that this was intentional.  There are moments where the flat affect and awkward dialogue seems like it wants to be more Wes Anderson than Resident Evil.  Actually, come to think of it—Resident Evil might be the best Wes Anderson movie ever made!  

Fairlane Road begins with a schlubby urbanite fellow receiving a call from his unhinged mother who sounds not unlike a cartoon witch.  She convinces him to check in on his uncle in the desert, so he leaves his girlfriend in the lurch to drive his cherry-red classic convertible to his uncle’s place.  There he finds people either (a) acting strangely or (b) acting normal-but-poorly.  Fortunately for the film, the two are basically indistinguishable!

The scary parts of the film revolve around a strange girl with a leg brace who carries a big red balloon.  There’s also a mass grave of Native Americans killed by the white community in his uncle’s backyard, which never bodes well.  The film doesn’t give anything away until the very end, which is to its benefit, since, once the full story is out, it’s all rather deflating.  But speaking of deflating, though, when the girl’s balloon gets popped, it screams.  That's unnerving.  I wonder what sounds it made when it was being inflated?

Even though I was digging just how creepy Fairlane Road was despite itself, I at the same time was actively hating on its protagonist, Nick.  Like, I didn't care if he fell off a cliff.  And when he actually fell off a cliff I was positively awash with indifference.  Yet again though, what seems like an insurmountable hurdle (Nick’s face) somehow works in favor of the movie as a whole.  But how?  Let’s break it down.

Nick is unlikable because:

(a) he has a really nice automobile and treats it like a baby, actually stopping on the side of the road in the desert to wipe down its radiator. 

(b) he looks inside his uncle’s refrigerator, sees a few cans of Miller Lite, sneers, and says he’s going to the store to get “real alcohol.”  The “real alcohol” turns out to be Sapporo. 

 (c) he frequently uses offensive terms, like when he tells the nurse that he thinks the girl with the ball is “retarded or something.”

(d) his default setting is angry and annoyed.  He’s angry all the time.  He’s never really scared—just annoyed and angry.  Even when he's hanging off the cliff, he's annoyed that no one is helping him.  His pivotal final line is “fuck you.”  

(e)  his whole punchable head-to-toe look.  This is tough to write, because I’m all for judging people by their insides.  Ew, ick.  What I mean is that I don’t want to sound superficial, but Nick’s styling is transcendently awful.   It’s something about the bedraggled yet greasy hair cut just at that perfectly wrong length combined with the painstakingly labored-over yet irradiated-rat-thin sideburns.  The single 90s hoop earring.  The unflattering crewcut t-shirts that make me want to do some pushups.  That semi-shaven, eternally brow-furrowed face.  God, I feel so mean now.        

Reviewing this data, I’ve concluded that Nick is a douche.  So maybe I could still get behind this movie because “a douche goes to the desert and gets terrorized by ghosts, Chicano gangsters, and Native American witch-shamans” doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? 

Oops, I can't believe I didn't mention the Chicano gangsters before.  There are Chicano gangsters.  They are named Chuy and Sancho and they steal both Nick’s car and the show. 

Look, for me at least, Fairlane Road is the kind of thing that I hoped we’d find when we started Rock, Paper, Hatchet.  It has a single star on its star meter.  I was expecting the worst, and got something, well, not the worst.   It gives me the opportunity to do something I haven’t done in awhile—say nice things! 

Despite the acting and the main character, Fairlane Road manages to be full of atmosphere and succeeds with one of the best dream sequence nightmares I’ve seen in a long while.  The sound work is austere and effective, full of blowing wind and howling coyotes and not much else.  Everything in the film points to the sense that something is really really fucked up, and even though you despise the main character throughout the film, the sense that he’s just about to get walloped by something big and evil and awful makes his slap-worthy attitude bearable.  The worse he is, the worse he’s going to get it, right?

So while it’s disappointing that the ending is a resonating thud, the rest of the movie outperforms its budget.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of moments when Fairlane Road feels a lot like that Monopoly mascot with his pockets turned out, shoulders shrugged, and a wallet full of dust.  But it takes these otherwise disabling limitations and fails productively, like falling up a flight of stairs.  I’m sticking up for this one, giant Nick-shaped warts and all! 

Questions for Joe:
1.  What did you make of the mother’s phone calls and her domestic-housecat-like mood swings?  I LOVE YOU!  I HATE YOU! I LOVE YOU!  

JD: During her last phone call, when she's shrieking that Nick will never amount to anything, it's as though reality itself has warped and the desert is a filter through which only hate can pass. But this and the rest of the lumbering mysteries of the film's midpoint die and wither away into the bones of a D.A.R.E commercial by the end.

2.  How does the story about the Native American mass grave tie in to the story about the balloon girl and the shaman?  I think I missed something somewhere.

JD: Well, let's just say that the cowboys who wrongly executed those Indians probably had a ton of random huskies and hail storms to deal with!

3.  Is there anything about Nick that isn’t aggravating?

JD: There was that scene where he admonished Jack and took him to task for his sins. I hoped that the snake woman would hear him and reconsider her plan... But snakes don't have ears! What dramatic irony.

4.  What is the most awkward line of dialogue in the film?  

JD: "Speak to me's how the whole communication thing works." Speaking never "works" for Nick.

5.  Chuy or Sancho?

JD: Chuy is played by Jose Diaz, and Sancho by Ralph Kasarian, and Fairlane Road is the only acting credit for either of them. It's also the only acting credit for Charles (Young Jack) and Sophia (Ghost Girl) Negrini, who are presumably the son and daughter of Gualtiero Negrini who played Jack. Gualtiero co-wrote Fairlane Road with Anthony Sherritt, who played Nick. I'm digging for a bone here, but evidently this isn't a mass grave of interesting facts. So in the spirit of Pokemon, Chuy I chuy-se you!

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