Trash Fire (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Trash Fire,” written and directed by Richard Bates Jr., is missing a third act but—to my most welcome surprise—it is appropriate considering the material’s seeming effortless ability to shock the viewers with its incredibly pointed dialogue and sudden left turns. It could have been just another uninspired movie where a couple from the city visits family members in the country and bad things start to happen inevitably. Instead, the film takes on a savage and quite misanthropic approach to its characters. Do we actually want these people to return to their miserable lives after the visit?
The first act is a compelling look at a relationship taking its last gasps of air. Although a dark comedy, I found more realism here than I do with standard romantic comedies where couples find themselves all right again after a banal, syrupy apology. Not here. The film is willing to show that sometimes one feels almost forced to forgive in order sustain what one has with another person. We feel a character’s fear of having to move on without the other and how that fear is mistaken for love. It’s sick, twisted, and I relished every second of Isabel (Angela Trimbur) and Owen’s (Adrian Grenier) increasingly rotting corpse of a relationship.
Grenier and Trimbur sell the dialogue as if they were in a drama, not a dark-comedy horror picture. They make a smart choice. In a movie like this where not much action happens, it is not enough to merely say the impressive lines. The key is found in the in-between, the emotions expressed sandwiched between the throwing of verbal daggers and looks of disdain. I found it interesting that it is easy to side with either Owen or Isabel and yet we still recognize not only the flaws of their actions (or inactions) but also the flaws of who they are. We find ourselves relating to them because deep down we feel they still wish to make a nearly impossible partnership work.
But the ace in the deck is Fionnula Flanagan who plays Violet, Owen’s deeply religious grandmother and caretaker of Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord), Owen’s sister whose body is 80% covered in burns. Flanagan communicates hatred toward her grandson and the woman he brought home—whom she considers to be a whore—by employing her entire being. Take note of the most intense scenes which take place at the dinner table where every word and tone must be chosen carefully. Violet offers a tricky minefield of insinuations when she isn’t being cruel to someone’s face. She is a villain to be remembered.
This gem of a film is for viewers who take pleasure in watching terrible people—not solely because the characters are terrible but also because there is a curiosity to want to understand why they are the way they are. Credit must be given to the writer-director for making an uncompromising picture, one that respects its audience’s intelligence and ability to relate to others—even if these “others” are intolerable when apart and toxic when together.