Review Du Jour: “Trash Fire”

Posted by Michael Parsons on November 8, 2016 in / No Comments


I spoke with writer/director Ricky Bates, Jr. a couple years back at a screening of his first feature “Excision”, which, at its lightest, is a pitch (and I mean pitch)black comedy. It was one of the more hilarious and twisted interviews I’ve “conducted”…. perfect, I thought, how that film reflected his sensibilities—a coming of age story for psycho-thriller enthusiasts.

His follow-up, “Suburban Gothic”, was decidedly less grim, more of a Coscarelli-inspired style ghost story/fantasy. His newest flick, “Trash Fire”, which made its way through Sundance this year, ventures into slightly different territory, ostensibly an extension of Bates’ own relationship experience (I say that because by admission, a mini-autobiography could’ve been extracted from“Excision”—one particularly disturbing parallel I will not share).

“Trash Fire” begins as a very funny, sharp tragicomedy involving super-cynical borderline alcoholic and seizure-prone Owen (Adrian Grenier of “Entourage”) and his extremely tolerant girlfriend Isabel (Angela Trimbur). v1-btsxmjiznzixnjtqoze3mtuxozeymda7mzm3nts1mdawInsufferably pessimistic, Owen is a self-sabotaging, carrying the guilt of a fire that killed his parents when he was a kid.

Isabel is perpetually on the edge of a breakup but continuously drawn in by pity whenever he has an episode, or gives her  puppy dog eyes. After he rants about how having kids is the worst thing in the world—at best case, they grow up to be cretins— she tearfully announces she’s pregnant. (He at least offers to split the cost of the abortion).

Owen begs forgiveness and pledges to be a good dad and change and all that, and she agrees— but only if they visit his estranged sister Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord) who lives like a hermit with their Grandmother because of burns she sustained in the aforementioned fire. “You don’t know what you’re asking”, he says, because Isabel isn’t privy to the fire story until they’re en route to Grandma’s.

The incident was a result of Owen’s improper installation of the heating system (every young teenager should know how to do that, right?). And, oh yeah, it turns out Owen had abandoned poor Pearl in the aftermath. But it doesn’t seem to rattle Isabel too terribly…. onward to the family reunion!

Isabel’s resolve is tested by self-pronounced vessel of God grandma Violet (creepy, petrifying Fionnula Flanagan), who makes the mom in “Carrie” look like an atheist. Not two minutes before walking in the door, she’s labeled Isabel a whore with poor taste in men, and the film becomes a fusion of “Duplex” and “Psycho”.

This is going interesting places, I thought, knowing Bates’ propensity for twisting the knife, as Owen periodically tries to communicate with his sister while being berated by Violet. The lack of love isn’t a surprise…. Flanagan plays a ferocious villain, McCord a mysterious recluse. Unfortunately, a nonsensical series of events and an unnecessary side-reveal make it all seem a little silly. First two acts get 4 stars for a great script and thoroughly undecipherable characters doing unpredictable things, third act gets 1 star for the exact opposite, and clunky execution.

—M. Parsons

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Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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