Lucky Bastard, the new movie written by Lukas Kendall and Robert Nathan (who also directed) has one swell line of dialog. Someone rings a doorbell and the heroine (porn star and amateur averse Ashley Saint) says it’s the real estate woman. Our hero (the psychotic, premature ejaculator Dave G.) says, “no, it’s not the real estate woman”.
Exactly why this is such a bees’ knees and cats’ pajamas of a line will only be revealed upon seeing the movie. But trust me, it’s damn swell.
Lucky Bastard is a thriller that takes place on an adult film set. The name refers to a web series in which an amateur, the titular role, is elected to have sex with a major porn star. The purpose of the site is to humiliate the man, but like all reality shows, the site producers still manage to get a new sucker every minute. But this time, the best laid plans of mice and men, etc., etc., etc.
If nothing else, Lucky Bastard is a very effective thriller. It’s nasty, vicious, mean, sure, I’ll give you that. But it is also highly entertaining. How good a combination that is for you depends on your personal taste, but it is one of those movies that glues your feet to the theater floor even without the help of spilt soda.
It’s not a perfect movie, and there are several reasons for this. It’s very well done, but never manages to be better than that.
Yes, I agree, that’s no mean feat, but what I’m trying to say here is that the acting is above average, but you’re always aware that the thespians are thespiating; the dialog is solid and has an authentic feel to it, while at the same time it’s often on point and filled with those self-satisfied clichés that adult industry workers use to justify what they do for a living (and it’s hard to tell if Kendall and Nathan realize that); and it’s filled with sex and violence that is often arousing and shocking, while at the same time, has been carefully sanitized for NC-17 consumption.
But there is something else a little off about it. And it has to do with the attitude of the filmmakers, or rather, maybe the absence of an attitude.
The movie begins with a mea culpa. This is a found footage film, all of it culled from various locations (the LAPD filming the crime scene; the director’s cameraman shooting B rolls; and a ton of itty-bitty cameras that had been planted all over the house that’s the centerpiece of the drama because it was once used for a Big Brother type show).
The person who put the footage together (heretofore called the filmmaker) claims that the following is a warning of the “those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind” variety (i.e., if you are going to do porn you deserve to have your head bashed in as someone holds a gun to your head while forcing you to masturbate).
But is this warning suppose to be ironic (that the filmmaker is trying to force his own morality on the material and misses the whole point of what went on) or are we suppose to take seriously the idea that the movie is a cautionary tale of what happens to sinners in the hand of an angry god? I find it ridiculously hard to believe it’s the latter, but Kendall and Nathan can’t quite pull the former off.
And who knows if Kendall and Nathan could have since the real problem here is that one of the major characters never appears and we never get to know them. At no point do we ever meet the person who took all this found footage and fashioned a movie out of it. We don’t know his motivations, his purpose, why he went to all the trouble to do it (except for the words on a black screen opening).
But without that, it can be a little hard to figure out exactly what we are supposed to get out of the whole thing.
There’s also something a bit inconsistent about this anonymous auteur. If this filmmaker was serious about making a movie with a moral (even if he gets the morality wrong), then he wouldn’t open the story with a scene of a porn shoot revolving around a rape website (a scene that has nothing to do with what happens later), but would have started with some past snippets of the Lucky Bastard site itself.
It’s simply inconsistent and out of character for this filmmaker character that never appears. With the result that it often feels like the person who gave us the warning label at the beginning isn’t the same person who actually went to all the hard work of editing all the found footage together in a very artsy-fartsy manner.
At the same time, since it’s probably going to be more exciting (with all the negativity that implies) showing a woman getting raped than a man being humiliated while trying to have sex, it’s no surprise Kendall and Nathan overruled their unseen character, thus ending up with an inconsistent movie.
So in the end it comes across like that Mel Brooks routine with Carl Reiner, in which he describes a Cecil B. DeMille type film in which everybody does terrible things, but it’s okay because they all realize how wrong they are and repent at the end. When challenged as to whether it’s hypocritical then to include all the sex and violence in the movie up until then, Brooks basically says, “but without it, how will the audience know what not to do”?
Lucky Bastard also comes across as a movie that is about the dehumanization of porn, but does it by dehumanizing all the characters in the story. No one is likable. They’re real enough, they’re not uninteresting, but they’re a pretty pathetic group of people and become less and less appealing as the story goes along until you have no real emotional reaction to them getting killed since you think they kind of deserve it all.
Even the title character, Dave G., never really connects emotionally. His character is all over the place, leap frogging from poor sucker, to pathetic victim, to a psychotic homophobe and hypocrite (the sort of person who whacks off to porn five times a day, but has no problem offing anyone who participates in it because of how disgusting and immoral they are), until he finally feels like a construct more than a real person.
And one can sympathize with Kendall and Nathan. That is a difficult nut to pull off. The movies Night Must Fall and La Ceremonie both do it, both have victims who are basically unlikable who you think deserve what’s coming to them until it actually does come to them and suddenly you find yourself unexpectedly shocked and terrified at what happens to people you thought you had no sympathy for.
But no, in Lucky Bastard, once it comes, you are shocked, yes, but not emotionally touched.
Which is probably why the movie comes off as a nastily effective and entertaining good time in the theater, but doesn’t really rise above what it is: a rather good B-movie thriller (maybe even an extremely good B-movie thriller).
It’s a first film for both Kendall as writer and Nathan as writer/director and there is more than enough here to suggest they might have something going for them.
With Betsy Rue as Ashley Saint and Jay Paulson as Dave G.
Tom is one cocky little bastard. He chats up Lucy at a bar two weeks earlier, then calls her out of the blue and asks if she wants to attend a remote music festival with his friends, camping out for the weekend. She agrees, but after getting gas, he pulls a bait and switch and says that for that one night, since the festival hasn’t started yet, he booked a room at a romantic hotel in the middle of nowhere.
Lucy rolls her eyes at the audacity. So okay, what if he is a bit too snarky and can be a tad mean? He’s cute and fun with a good sense of humor and has puppy dog eyes and a pouty face. So sure, why not, and she agrees.
So they reach a pub, have a drink, Tom may or may not have gotten into a minor confrontation with some local yokels, and the two follow a jeep sent from the hotel, who, at the entrance to the road leading to the their final destination (yeah, I said it, their final destination, so what are you going to do about it), takes off, leaving them to follow some signs. And they do.
And after awhile, they realize that the signs are leading them in circles and aren’t taking them anywhere and they don’t know how to get to the hotel and they don’t know how to get back to the main road and then, well, and then the real fun begins.
Well, I won’t spoil it, but In Fear, the new thriller directed by Jeremy Lovering (no screenwriter is mentioned), is a movie that gets its scares the old fashioned way: through a slow build up that becomes more and more unnerving by the second; through suggestion (is that a man in a mask or a scarecrow); and through creepy and unexplained things happening off screen.
In many ways, it’s a simple story. There’re only three characters and most of the action is confined to the car and a remote area in Cornwall, England. Like Lucky Bastard, It speaks volumes as to what can be done in what I call a three unities movie (limited location, short time period, and simple plot).
And Lovering and the actors are very good at showing how little things, like getting lost, or having difficulty with a map, or difficult roads, can start out being merely annoying, but then easily lead to deep frustration, anger at one’s partner for no reason, and then momentary followed by full out panic.
It falls apart some at the ending. The solution to the mystery is one that begs more questions that it answers (it seems to suggest that what happens to the couple has happened to a ton of people before, but no explanation is given as to why the authorities haven’t caught on to the fact that so many people are going missing in the same location).
And the final shot doesn’t really resolve anything. In fact, it sort of feels like one of those endings where the writer couldn’t quite figure out how to resolve it after all.
But the acting is first rate, with Iain De Caestecker as Tom; Alice Englert as Lucy; and Allen Leech (the Irish upstart who married into the family in Downton Abbey) as the mysterious stranger who may or may not be who he says he is (three guesses).
With extremely moody and extremely unsettling cinematography by David Katznelson.
Perhaps it’s best to say that In Fear may not be perfect, but it is one heck of a terrifying movie.
One heck of a terrifying movie.