Celluloid Screams 2016: Trash Fire Review
Richard Bates Jr. (Excision, Suburban Gothic) is renowned for his quirky style and skill for creating detestable yet compelling characters, this directorial trait is still strongly prominent in his third feature film and the third to be screened at Celluloid Screams, Trash Fire.
Owen (Adrian Grenier) and Isabel (Angela Trimbur) are a couple embroiled in a turbulent relationship, displaying mutual resentment and repulsion for one another. Close to breaking point, the couple unexpectedly face a life changing event that binds them together. After a horrific fire that burnt down his childhood home and resulted in the death of his parents, Owen is estranged from his remaining living relatives; his kooky religious freak Grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) and badly scarred sister Pearl (Annalynne McCord). With Isabel’s encouragement, the couple set off to make amends but little do they know the kind of weirdness that lies ahead for them. The real test of their relationship is set to begin. But will the experience destroy the couple or bring them closer together?
Trash Fire is Bates Jr.’s strongest film to date, it’s side-splittingly entertaining from beginning to end accompanied by a razor sharp script that doesn’t let up on it’s sarcastic humour. The pacing works well, we are gradually introduced to the protagonists Owen and Isabel, learning about their toxic relationship and how they reached that point. The second part of the film takes the characters out of the environment we were initially introduced to them in and places them in the strict religious confines of the grandmother’s home, shifting the tone and feel of the film in a different direction.
What’s great about Trash Fire is it veers off into unexpected territory and by the end it’s a completely different film to the one that first begun. It remains a mean spirited dark comedy in tone however as it progresses there is a certain empathy attached to the main characters. Owen, as a character is layered with issues and comes across as obnoxious and deliberately unpleasant however once his back story is revealed it provides an inclination of why his character is so unapologetically mean. For a film laced with a brutal sense of humour the character development is spot on, keeping the audience entirely compelled.
There’s some hilarious moments of comedic tension shared between Grenier and Matthew Gray Gubler who plays his straight laced brother in law Caleb. Gubler is one of the film’s most welcome highlights. All the performances are brilliantly acted portraying over the top characters. Angela Trimbur play Isabel as a woman at her wits end, it’s incredible how her character managed to survive a three year relationship with Owen. Fionnula Flanagan is quick witted and unapologetically horrid as the ghastly Grandmother. Annalynne McCord is ambiguous and empathetic as Pearl with a side of uncomfortable weirdness, it’s refreshing to see her in a different kind of role and this one is certainly memorable.
Similarly to Bates Jr’s previous films, Trash Fire still incorporates bizarre visual sequences used for a metaphorical purpose but not to the same extent as his other offerings. With the focus primarily on the core characters and dynamics, it doesn’t need to include as many stylish visual sequences like Excision. On some level it has an 80’s B-Movie style thriller feel to it.
One of the genre’s best dark horror comedies of the year, Trash Fire is surprising, unpredictable and ensures that what you see is what you get and more!
Hayley Alice Roberts