Tired of train wrecks? Alienated by mutant life forms? Bewildered by budgets? Done with the undead? Then the movies for you, thus far this year, are 1) Andrew Bujalski’s “Computer Chess” and 2) Eddie Mullins’ as-yet-all-but-unseen “Doomsdays,” which premieres tonight at Fantasia Fest in Montreal. The two films share numerous dissimilarities. They are also unlike anything else out there.
They also, sort of, arise out of the same gene pool: Justin Rice, one of Mullins’ two leads, was at the center of Bujalski’s “Mutual Appreciation”; Rice’s counterpart, Leo Fitzpatrick, first rose to prominence via Larry Clark’s “Kids,” a film that which foreshadowed Bujalski’s — and Mullins’ – aescetic aesthetic.
But, again, the films couldn’t be more different. While the palpably dank world of “Computer Chess” implies a future bright with computerized possibility, “Doomsdays,” for all its humor, is poised on the edge of an abyss. Where there’s a distinct danger of falling over. From laughing too hard. It has an uncanny combo of wryness and nihilism. Think Wes Anderson crossed with Michael Haneke (but don’t think about it too much).
In the story, Dirty Fred (Rice) and Bruho (Fitzpatrick) roam a well-to-do exurban expanse (a better-off area in the Catskills, specifically), breaking into houses, consuming the liquor, smashing the finery and, once in a while, bluffing their way out of a tight spot. Bruho also takes pleasure in applying a tire iron to whatever automobile happens to be parked in the driveway, because he’s concerned about the coming end of the petroleum age and figures one less car is a gift to the future. It’s also a convenient outlet for the evident rage that lay behind Mullins entire movie.
The faux-magical atmosphere (see it, if you will, as a W. Anderson allusion) seems to suggest an end-of-days scenario that hasn’t quite arrived, combined with a critique of economic imbalance: Our pair of alcoholic vandals move from one richly appointed home to another, their absentee owners presumably enjoying themselves elsewhere while Fred and Bruho liberate their booze, and their space. The people absent from the underpopulated landscape might have been abducted by aliens, or terrorists. But they also might be missing due to money.
Among the several wonderful things about “Doomsdays” is its utter unpredictability. Rice is droll and dangerous; Fitzpatrick is sullen but sensitive. The pair of equally footloose nomads who joins them – the seemingly geeky Jaison (Brian Charles Johnson) and the slinky Reyna (Laura Campbell) – aren’t what one expects either. Nothing about “Doomsdays” is want you expect. This summer, especially, that amounts to a minor revolution in cinema.
Mullins is a former writer and reviewer (for BlackBook) which puts him in that rather select group of critics-cum-auteurs that includes, among others, Jean-Luc Godard. His influence on “Doomsdays” is pretty obvious. “It’s manifested in a couple of ways,” Mullins acknowledged. “I thought of it in terms of ‘Weekend,’ where nothing is ever explained but the world has clearly gone to hell. I wanted to create the same feeling, but have it all come up around edges. There’s a suicide; the fact they may or may not have killed someone is pretty quickly forgotten. There are scenarios they’re talking about that haven’t come to pass yet, but clearly they’re not living in the world we live. It’s far more sinister and grim.”
At the same time, “Doomsdays” is encouragingly (for prospective distributors) funny. “We’ve had test screenings, where I’m at the back of the room going to pieces, and people laughed through the entire thing,” he said. Despite any ornate subtext, he said, “Audiences are willing to accept this as just a comedy.”