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Thursday, October 20, 2016
It isn't every day that I can describe a bloody, violent serial-killer movie as a "feelgood flick", but I just got through watching AMERICAN ROMANCE (2016) and darned if that isn't just what it is.
Okay, it isn't THE SOUND OF MUSIC, but it isn't THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER either. It isn't even NATURAL BORN KILLERS (despite the clear similarities) because it lacks both that film's sardonic pessimism and indulgence in cinematic artifice.
After one of those cool SE7EN-style main titles sequences that gives the movie a lot to live up to, we meet troubled ex-sheriff Ricky Stern (Barlow Jacobs, GREAT WORLD OF SOUND, THE MASTER, THAT EVENING SUN), who's sort of a shut-in due to something bad that happened to him during a case which was known as "The Diorama Killings" since the victims were always arranged in such a way as to preach a message against sin (another similarity to SE7EN).
When a writer (Elana Krausz) comes by to interview him about it, his tortured recollections set off a series of flashbacks that carry us back to the story of young newlyweds Jeff Madison (Nolan Gerard Funk, DEADGIRL, BEREAVEMENT) and his wife Krissy (Daveigh Chase, SPIRITED AWAY, THE RING, DONNIE DARKO), who have just had a flat tire in the middle of rural nowhere.
They walk to the nearest house, where a weird, jittery old man named Emery (John Savage, THE DEER HUNTER, DOOR INTO SILENCE) is in the process of putting a gun in his mouth. He grudgingly calls a tow truck, but during their wait (in which Emery's behavior becomes increasingly odd), Krissy happens to look through the bathroom window and sees a naked dead body in the bathtub, splattered with blood.
Have they stumbled into the very lair of "The Diorama Killer"? Or is there more here than meets the eye? What seems at first to be a fairly straightforward story will just get more and more deliriously strange as the viewer is kept off-balance the whole time.
Trouble is, this is one of those movies where the more I tell you about it, the less you'll be able to experience it the way I did. Even the trailer reveals just a little too much even though it does try not to spill ALL the beans.
Anyway, the less said about things like Emery's paraplegic wife Brenda (Diane Farr, ABOUT CHERRY) who is bound and gagged in her wheelchair, or horny tow-truck driver Hank (Mark Boone Junior, SE7EN, MEMENTO, BATMAN BEGINS), or anything else that happens when all the stabbing and shooting and screaming starts, the better.
I can say that the performances are top-notch, with John Savage being his usual weird, creepy self--he's always been an expert at seeming not quite right in the head. Daveigh Chase (who was the voice of "Chihiro" in the Disney dub of Miyazaki's SPIRITED AWAY) is a sexy backwoods delight as she does her best Juliette Lewis, while Funk reminds me of a young Nick Chinlund. Both invest their roles with just the right touch of humor.
Mei Melançon (X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, LOADED) appears as an investigator helping Sheriff Stern, while familiar face James Duval (INDEPENDENCE DAY, VENICE UNDERGROUND, THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO'S POND) shows up in a mostly non-speaking role as the body in the bathtub.
Director Zackary Adler (THE RISE OF THE KRAYS, CASUAL ENCOUNTERS) has crafted a bloody thriller that's a pleasure to look at, with a story good enough to avoid having to rely on mere shock value and violence for its own sake.
And maybe I'm just weird, but, like I said, AMERICAN ROMANCE left me feeling lighthearted and uplifted when it was over. It's the bloodiest feelgood flick of the year!