Screamfest Movie Review: TRASH FIRE

Human beings are interesting specimens.  We hurt those that love us and we try to impress those that hate us.  There is always this feeling, this urge, for gratification and love, and when we don’t receive it, sometimes we are left feeling slighted, angry, or worse.  Sometimes true horror is seen in its rawest form through human interactions which can have devastating results leaving those we love in pieces.  TRASH FIRE is a film that shows how unforgiving and ruthless people can be while also showing us how far people are willing to go for the ones they love. 

TRASH FIRE is the latest film directed by Richard Bates Jr. (Excision, Suburban Gothic) and stars Adrian Grenier (“Entourage”), Angela Trimbur (The Final GIrls), Fionnula Flanagan (The Others), Matthew Gray Gubler (“Criminal Minds”) and AnnaLynne McCord (“90210”).  The story centers on Owen (Grenier), a deeply troubled individual, whose unhappiness and disgust with his life, and quite frankly life around him, seeps throughout his every pore. When informed of a life altering event, his girlfriend Isable (Trimbur) forces him to confront his dark past and make amends with his grandmother (Flanagan) and younger sister (McCord).  However, nothing could have prepared Owen for the horror that awaited him and his loved ones. Though this film may not be perfect it has ended up being one of my favorite films of 2016.  Not only was the acting some of the best that I’ve seen all year, it was clear that this film was made with an immense amount of passion and I can’t help but wonder if it was semi-autobiographical for director Ricky Bates Jr.  Regardless, the film is a punch to the gut, and just when you think you can resurface for air, the film comes right back around and knocks you to the ground. 

One reason this film works so well is because of the chemistry between the characters.  From the start of the film to long after the credits, I found myself entangled in the relationship between Owen and Isabel.  It was a relationship that was stripped of any pretenses and it showcased two people who were barely hanging on to their relationship.  It was sad, funny, introspective, heartbreaking and powerful.  The first act of the film focuses on the crumbling relationship between Owen and Isabel and though it’s hard to watch at times, the intensity is broken up by moments of laughter, albeit they are brought on by cynical quips.  These characters are destroying one another and their pain and heartache is shown not only on their faces but by their snarky, and sometimes vile, comments to each other.  Why don’t they just leave each other?  Because as Isabel says during a therapy session, “You can’t choose you who fall in love with.” The real horror comes during the second and third act which lead up to the final standoff.  In a last ditch effort to save their relationship, Isabel tells Owen that he must mend the fractured relationship between his grandmother and his sister.  At this point, we learn why Owen doesn’t speak to his family and why his mom and dad aren’t in the picture.  Without giving too much away, it involves a deadly fire and the disfiguration of Owen’s sister.  When Owen arrives at his grandmother’s house we learn real fast just what type of person she really is.  She’s the ultimate villain, a religious fanatic, and a cold, calculating sociopath.  She calls Isabel a slut and a whore, Owen a failure, and comments on how she can’t eat with her granddaughter due to her face causing her to lose her appetite.  With that said, I absolutely loved her.  Fionnula Flanaga’s complete devotion to the character was mesmerizing and terrifying and I loved watching her become completely unhinged throughout the film.  Honestly, she may be my favorite villain of the past few years. 

Other than the top notch acting, I was impressed with the cinematography, camera work, and set dressing.  I don’t know much about camera angles or terminology but what I do know is I loved how the film was shot.  There were times when the camera would pan out and focus on one of the character when they were speaking their lines and it made the experience seem more personable, as if the character was speaking directly to the audience.  I also loved the set design - whether it was Isabel’s apartment, which was fresh, clean, and bright or the grandmother's house which was old, dusty, and worn out.  I felt as though the set design coincided with who the characters were and I enjoyed seeing such a difference between the young and the old. 

As much as I loved this film, there were a few bumps along the way.  Owen starts off the film as depressed, cynical, and unforgiven but by the end of the movie he’s sympathetic and loving.  It was such a drastic change that I had a hard time believing that he was able to flip to someone so different so fast.  Also, he knew what type of person his grandmother was, I would even go so far as saying he knew what she was capable of, yet he put himself into scenarios in which one would never want to be in, and when things started to get really bad he refused to leave until it was too late.  My other issue, or maybe I should say question, related to Annalynne McCord’s character and why she did the things she did at the end.  However, that’s for me to figure out as I don’t want to ruin the ending for all of you reading this.  Other than that, those were my only gripes with the film and at the end of the day I’m willing to suspend reality because of how much I enjoyed the end result. 

Overall, this film pulled at me in ways that other films rarely do.  I understand that having a perfect film is paramount but I liked that there were some flaws along the way.  Though not a typical horror movie in the sense of monsters or creatures, I personally find that the notion of what humans are capable of to be just as terrifying.  I can’t necessarily put my finger on why I loved this film so much, but in some ways I feel like it spoke to me. Love can be a dangerous thing, families can be capable of hurting us in ways we never thought possible, and many times we never know the lies and deceit that loved ones carry with them.  TRASH FIRE may not be for everyone and that’s okay, but for me, I couldn’t have been more impressed with what I saw.  I hope this film continues to affect people the way it has for me as well as remind us all to never take for granted those who truly love us. 

Devastatingly Yours,
Shannon M.