SXSW Film — DAY 7

Alex Williams

"In Our Nature"
Directed by Brian Savelson

It wouldn’t be SXSW without a movie where rich white people argue, and “In Our Nature” is a thankfully painless example of that subgenre, a sharply written and observed film with a wonderful quartet of actors at its core. Zach Gilford (“Friday Night Lights”) stars as Seth, who takes his girlfriend Andie (Jena Malone) on a weekend getaway at his estranged father’s (John Slattery) vacation home, only to be shocked when Gil and his much younger girlfriend Vicky (Gabrielle Union) show up as well.

A film like this needs two things to work: a good script and good actors, and “In Our Nature” satisfies in both respects. Gilford and Malone have great chemistry together, and their relationship has an authentic passion to it, despite the fact that Seth is kind of a petulant brat, especially in the film’s back half. John Slattery has done admirable work playing a lecherous old man on “Mad Men,” and his character here isn’t far off, an immature but charming man.

This is the first feature from writer-director Brian Savelson, and the rookie displays a knack for dialogue and conjures up some evocative nature imagery as well. His script does a great job exploring the dynamics that emerge between each of the different characters over the course of the weekend, and his conversations always feel realistic, even if they lack closure in a few cases. “In Our Nature” meanders a bit too often, and its ending doesn’t quite deliver a full narrative arc for anyone involved, but it’s an interesting study of four well-written characters, and that’s enough to earn it a recommendation.

"Lovely Molly"
Directed by Eduardo Sanchez

Since his massive success on “The Blair Witch Project,” “Lovely Molly” writer-director Eduardo Sanchez has mostly laid low, producing a few under-the-radar flicks, but “Lovely Molly” is a film worth taking notice of, a smart, scary, and atmospheric possession thriller. The film begins in a dark place, with a desperate Molly (Gretchen Lodge) on the verge of suicide, before flashing back to her wedding to Tim (Johnny Lewis), a truck driver who’s often on the road. After the newlyweds move into the house where Molly’s father died, we begin to see that Molly is profoundly damaged, a recovering drug addict with a menagerie of daddy issues that begin to rear their head when she’s alone in the house.

Sanchez makes a very deliberate choice to crank up the ambiguity in “Lovely Molly,” laying out all of Molly’s mental issues before sending her completely off the deep end, leaving the audience to decide if she’s simply lost her mind or if something more insidious has taken it from her. The film never rushes to its conclusion, and often goes for psychological terror over visceral thrills. The sound design is truly exceptional, and is almost exclusively used to create many of the scares in the film’s first half.

Also worth noting is the stunning lead performance from Gretchen Lodge in her screen debut. Lodge’s Molly makes us feel for her as she’s dragged down this rabbit hole, and effectively juxtaposes her character’s self-loathing and fear. If Lodge wasn’t convincing both as a woman who people care about and as an absolute nutcase, “Lovely Molly” wouldn’t work, and thanks to her, it does.

The only problem with “Lovely Molly” comes towards the end, when a plot revelation regarding Molly’s husband seems to come out of nowhere, and the lack of foreshadowing and character consistency is frustrating and really bizarrely timed, especially in a film that’s been so deliberate with its character work. Even so, Eduardo Sanchez has put together a chilling little film here that ends with a perfectly restrained, absolutely terrifying moment. This is indie horror at its best, and “Lovely Molly” is easily the best horror film of SXSW.

"Frankie Go Boom"
Directed by Jordan Roberts

When one looks at the cast list for “frankie go boom,” it’s impossible not to want to see the film. Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”) and Chris O’Dowd star as brothers Frank and Bruce, and suffice it to say the two do not get along. Since their childhood, Bruce has been humiliating Frank on camera for his own amusement, and when he gets out of rehab with promises of self-improvement, Bruce promptly returns to his old vice. After he films a particularly embarrassing moment involving Frank, Lassy (Lizzy Caplan), and a bed, Frank and Bruce’s relationship comes to a head as the two struggle to get the video off the internet.

At its start, “frankie go boom” is often entertaining and very funny, and remains chuckle-worthy throughout. As “Bridesmaids” proved, Chris O’Dowd can be very funny when handed the right material, but this is simply not that. Bruce starts the film off as a loveable screw-up, but as it progresses, Bruce proves to be an idiotic, self-serving jerk, and it makes it hard to root for anything to happen but this horrific character’s slow and painful death.

Avoiding the problematic conflict at its center, “frankie go boom” has a few good moments, especially Lizzy Caplan’s daffy, charming performance and Charlie Hunnam’s sharp comedic timing, which hasn’t changed since his time on Judd Apatow’s “Undeclared.” The incredibly neurotic sex scene the two share at the film’s opening is a highlight, but the best part of the film is Ron Perlman’s out-of-left-field performance as a transsexual named Phyllis who takes a liking to Frank. To say that the dynamic here between Perlman and Hunnam is a change from their intensity in “Sons of Anarchy” is an understatement, and Perlman relishes getting to play against type.

“frankie go boom” could have been a truly hilarious film and its description promised it would be a SXSW highlight, but when the film is derailed by its unsympathetic, unlikeable, and unrealistic comedic lead, there’s not much you can do to save it. “frankie go boom” is funny throughout, but the film is abrasive in a way that not many comedy fans will enjoy, and thus only receives a mild recommendation.