Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Brooklyn rumble: "Bushwick"

If they're lucky, a filmmaker might capture something in the air when they set their cameras to rolling - a whiff of the zeitgeist that doesn't require undue elaboration for an audience to get where they're coming from. If they're really lucky, then twelve-to-fifteen months after shooting, when the movie finally emerges, that something will not only still be in the air, but will have intensified to the point where their new release feels torn from that morning's headlines. Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott, directors of this week's Bushwick, are pretty lucky guys. Here is a nimble B-movie fable about a red-hooded innocent (Brittany Snow) making her way from school to her grandma's house only to find her previously quiet neck of the woods under attack from black-clad gunmen. She picks up a useful protector in former WWE wrestler Dave Bautista, playing a weary janitor trying to get home to family in Hoboken, yet as the pair edge their way between explosions and sniper fire, it becomes apparent the carnage is the work of domestic terrorists - a white supremacist militia who've choppered in from Texas with the aim of taking America back and making it great again.

The basic scenario, co-authored by Stake Land's genre-savvy Nick Damici, suggests a US equivalent to Went the Day Well? or It Happened Here, and a good deal of Bushwick's charge derives from seeing apparently nondescript backstreets (as Snow wonders, "who the fuck invades Bushwick?") and everyday destinations (schools, bodegas, laundromats) assuming their place in what's been reconfigured as a warzone. Given that the film opens with the terrorists' helicopter buzzing towards the former site of the World Trade Center, one passenger's rifle poking menacingly into frame, you might just wonder how on earth the movie got filmed without anybody being hauled into custody under the Homeland Security Act: luck and good permits, presumably. Though Murmion and Milott make their limited number of panoramas count, a lot more of Bushwick is suggestive, the threat posed by the militia expanded by cunning sound design and a skittering, newly immersive camera style - an evolution of the found-footage approach - that refuses anything so simple as a cut when the operator can turn a corner and hustle the leads pell-mell into the next state of siege.

The tactics are both inventive (kudos to whoever thought to send on the Hasidic resistance to this occupation, and those taking to the streets carrying lacrosse sticks, a touch that somehow seems very Bushwick) and slightly, perhaps understandably evasive: we seem forever to be skirting the boundaries of some catastrophic social breakdown, where a major studio production like Cloverfield was possessed of the money to throw us right into the thick of things, and Murmion and Milott never quite outrun the suspicion they have to keep everyone moving because they only have so much to show and tell us. Stop to apply a moment's thought to Bushwick's central impasse, for one thing, and you start to wonder just how closely it applies to the reality of 2017. These militiamen want their beloved Texas to secede from the United States in protest at the actions of the Government - they're Obama-era stragglers - whereas the Nazis of Charlottesville somehow gained Presidential support, if not full approval. 

Again, it would seem we've reached a point where reality is more dysfunctional and therefore terrifying than anything a movie can venture - although I'll concede the despair of the final act helps to better tether Bushwick to our moment. So, too, the hefty presence of Bautista - breakout star of the Guardians of the Galaxy series, a Rock purged of the easy irony - who here resumes his usual skin tone and works appreciably hard amid all the huffing and puffing to sketch a battle-exhausted last bulwark between the forces of civilisation and chaos ("I'm just trying to get through the day"); even slumped in silhouette on a windowsill at the back of one frame, his circular bulk draws the eye, like Big Hero 6's Baymax powered down for the night. The film haring around him feels like a fluke or fly-by-night, the kind of dual-directed flash of inspiration that almost invariably proves impossible to follow up, as Messrs. Myrick and Sanchez discovered after The Blair Witch Project and the Neveldine/Taylor partnership found in making Crank II: High Voltage. Still, it hooks and diverts us skilfully enough for ninety minutes - and Bautista, for one, is surely here to stay.

Bushwick opens in selected cinemas from Friday. 

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