As human beings, we have all felt the painful sting of isolation and loneliness. Whether you like it or not, we're social creatures and we crave the love and attention of our peers. It's hard-wired into our being, and for many of us, the thought of spending the rest of our lives alone is one of the most terrifying prospects out there.
Harrison Atkins tackles this exact subject in his first full length feature film, LACE CRATER, starring Lindsay Burdge, Peter Vack, Jennifer Kim and genre favorite, Joe Swanberg (VHS, YOU'RE NEXT). In what is presented as a dark comedy, the film follows the life of Ruth (Burdge) following a late night tryst with a ghost that causes her body to undergo strange and unidentifiable changes. Atkins take a long look at loneliness as a human condition, and what it can drive us to do in order to feel some level of love, acceptance and affection.
As the film opens, we are introduced to our core group of players: a group of friends traveling to a vacation house in the Hamptons for a night of drug fueled, drunken debauchery, or in their case: to do ecstasy and cuddle all night long. From the get go we are shown that these people are all expressing their desire and need for companionship in different ways. Andrew (played by Andrew Ryder) describes the details of a painful breakup that he is embroiled in, while still expressing the idea that he would like to maintain a friendship with her (whoever she may be). The entire group takes a drug that is specifically designed to enhance human interactions, and we see the characters start reaching out to each other for varying degrees of affection. In an audio-visual montage, we see each of them discussing the painful areas of their lives in what appears to be an attempt to simply be heard, regardless of whether or not anyone is actually listening. We also see that Ruth is interested in Andrew, while she battles her own past-relationship demons, fearing the idea of a long existence much in the same way that Andrew is fearing his.
All of this exposition takes place within the first 25 minutes of the film. By the time our ghost shows up, Atkins has managed to pain Ruth's emotional state on a multi-colored canvas for us to observe and to make this meeting between Ruth and this sad, little spirit that much more special. Through prolonged silences and lingering shots, he captures the awkwardness of their meeting in a meaningful and touching way; he brings to life a feeling that we have all felt with the use of little to no exposition - butterflies in your stomach. You can feel how excited they are to be with each other. To feel something with each other, and in this regard Atkins wastes little time on subtlety. While I won't dwell on our ghost too much (half the fun of this film is meeting him and getting to know him yourself), we see two people who are profoundly lonely, who have managed to find each other at the right time, and who find solace in their shared feelings. It says a lot about our need for companionship, in that Ruth is so starved for affection that she literally sleeps with a dead person to feel alive.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of this film, I have to say that I got a little lost somewhere between the second and third act. While Atkins seemed to work so hard at injecting symbolism and imagery into the first half, the second half seemed disjointed and poorly executed. While the first half had some touching and genuinely funny moments, the second lacked all of that and went a very dark route that I normally would not protest, but that just felt out of place in a film like this. I understand that Atkins was attempting to give our ghost some depth; however, he ended up taking the film in a direction that was a little disconcerting and confusing. Dynamics between certain characters made little sense and I had trouble understanding why certain events took place when the first act seemed so well thought out. Maybe I'm overthinking the film as a whole, but I don't think I am, I just think that the film lost a few screws as the run-time wore on. It's hard to get into specifics without spoiling anything, but I would love to have a deeper conversation with someone regarding this film and the events throughout the final act.
That being said, I did find LACE CRATER to be a very entertaining look at the effects that loneliness can have on our psyche, and the things that it can drive one to do. Although, I stand by my statement that things got a little wonky at the end there, I do believe that Atkins kept the heart of his story throughout, and while I had questions, they were not enough to turn me off to the film as a whole. While LACE CRATER was far from a comedy (as it was described on the internet), it was still a very interesting look at a fear that so many of us are all too familiar with and I love that aspect of it. If you are interested in catching a viewing yourself, LACE CRATER premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September but will be receiving a limited theatrical roll-out in the US, or you can catch it on a VOD platform in a living room near you, this Friday, July 29th.
Until next time, keep it spooky,