Trash Fire (2016)
Director: Richard Bates Jr.
Synopsis: A couple whose relationship is on the rocks try to rebuild old family bonds and conquer personal demons, with violent results.
Overview: Trash Fire gets into the garbage right away. Meet Owen (Adrian Grenier) and Isabel (the cat-eyed Angela Trimbur) a couple on the rocks at a juncture in their lives. We see them together through an awkward anniversary argument that lets us know things are not going well and only one of them seems to care. Being a fly on the wall for their disintegrating relationship feels like a guilty pleasure, the kind that has you texting your best friend with disbelief about what you’ve witnessed and that’s what keeps you hooked before the horror really begins. Isabel’s desperation and anger is poorly countered by Owen’s selfish unawareness and it makes every conversation nearly unbearable but equally entertaining. There’s a biting honesty in their speech that is jarring at first, but it becomes very funny if you tilt your head and look at it from a different angle. This is largely thanks to the earnest performances by the leads who hold nothing back from their performances. Between their hurtful insults there are bits of reality, comments you might have said in your own failing long-term relationships about hygiene and habits. At times it’s refreshing to hear them say what you’re thinking as you watch their mess of coupledom: when Owen asks Isabel why she’s still with him, she quips about working on her self-esteem issues until moving on to something better and we know she’s only half lying. The truth is, she’s pregnant by this idiot and rightfully scared. Owen is a total asshole at nearly every turn, and not in the “slightly endearing damaged goods” way. It wouldn’t be far off to say that some viewers will be turned off by the film based on his attitude alone – it’s fairly unbelievable that a woman like Isabel would continue to be in a relationship with him even with her tendency to be his caretaker. After lengthy and tortured discussion about what to do with the zygote, Isabel decides to relent to Owen’s insistence that they should raise this child together. She has one stipulation: that he become closer with his family and mend the relationship between his grandmother and his sister.
What she doesn’t know is that Owen’s grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) is a psychopath, and his sister (AnnaLynne McCord) is deranged after being dramatically disfigured in a fire. Upon meeting them it suddenly makes sense why Owen is such a mess, and this allows just a sliver of empathy to creep in. This is where the horror shines, as we see the ugliness of humanity with teeth bared. Everyone in this film does something outside the realm of believability but somehow it makes sense. What makes Trash Fire interesting is its ability to stay grounded while it reaches into warped minds. Trapped at the charming farmhouse, Owen and Isabel’s relationship strengthens as a means of survival against the others in the house. But the origin of grandmother’s plot is far more sinister than anyone knows, and the climactic ending of the film will leave you startled and disturbed. There’s something camp about Trash Fire. It’s not a perfect movie, but it has a nostalgic flavour that makes it just right for a good night of marathon horror viewing, especially in a group. It’s not a horror comedy, but those with a darker sense of humour will find moments to laugh out loud either to relieve the tension or remind themselves that they are indeed watching a Trash Fire in action and it’s supposed to reek. Though it feels cynical at times – especially given today’s climate – it’s a tough little movie that deserves a chance, especially if you missed it on your radar and value performance over plot in your horror films. Horror fans will note and appreciate the familiar faces and the clear effort given by director Richard Bates Jr. You probably won’t scream, but I guarantee you’ll gasp – if not at the wicked dialogue then at least at where the movie decides to go.
Featured Image: Vertical Entertainment