|Hope springs eternal in the young man's breast.|
New Beginnings. New Job. New Boss. New Horizons.
Dir. Trevor Juras
Prd. Peter Kuplowsky
Starring: Patrick McFadden, Delphine Roussel, Hyun-Jin Kim, Andrew Hayes,
Lucas Mailing, Ryan Austin, Shaina Silver-Baird, Jake Beczala
Review By Greg Klymkiw
I hope not to oversell the subtle, albeit glorious charms of The Interior, but when I see a movie as bold and original as this one, it's hard not to. Let me say, right off the bat, though, that writer-director Trevor Juras has broken a big rule in storytelling that not only works beautifully, but warms the cockles of my heart because this particular approach is so rooted to my personal peccadilloes as both a critic and film producer. For anyone who cares, my production of Guy Maddin's Careful had a deliciously insane narrative rule-breaker (among a shitload, really) that's not unlike the one employed by Juras in this brilliant black comedy/horror thriller.
Though I was pleased this film reminded me of several films, this is not to say Juras employs by-rote geek-homages, but that his film made me think positively about it in the historical context of such disparate items as Office Space/Silicon Valley (knee-slappingly funny white-collar shenanigans), Deliverance (creepy-ass shit in the deep woods), Repulsion/The Tenant (loneliness and insanity converging to create horror), Willow Creek (sheer terror in a tent), Fight Club (eating food with one's digits directly from the fridge), Repo Man (a mordantly hilarious and realistic blend of workplace strangeness with, uh, just plain cult-movie strangeness), Billy Liar (the famous Brit New Wave rendering of a young man with "fantasies") and O Lucky Man! (the bizarre adventures of a coffee salesman played by Malcolm McDowell).
For a first feature to get an old curmudgeon like me to put its director's name, Trevor Juras, in a pantheon that includes Guy Maddin, Mike Judge, John Boorman, Roman Polanski, Bobcat Goldthwait, David Fincher, Alex Cox, John Schlesinger and Lindsay Anderson, is indeed a heart-felt pleasure.
How's that for an oversell?
Well, screw it. This movie gave me so much pleasure, I can't help myself.
Things get off to a rip-snortingly deadpan start. Yes, "rip-snortingly deadpan" might seem like an oxymoron, but that's just the kind of picture The Interior is. It's a leave it or lump it affair, but if you leave it, you lose (and potentially display your crappy taste, lack of cinema literacy and sense of humour).
Under the harsh glare of fluorescent lights, we first meet a handsome, cleanly, but conservatively attired James (Patrick McFadden in an astonishingly great performance, an amalgam of Emilio Estevez in Repo Man and Buster Keaton in anything). He betrays little emotion as he rigidly drills his eyes downward into nothingness whilst the angry thumping of a rap song pulsates on the soundtrack. Given the composition and lighting, as well as what little of the set we see, his emotion-bereft reverie could well be in the copier room of some white collar offices as he daydreams in place of his gaze upon the progress of the copy machine.
The reverie is broken. The door opens. An exotically attractive woman with high cheekbones that never end, inviting eyes, a gorgeously buffed aquiline profile and adorned in medical-white attire, enters and grabs a chart near the door. We realize there's no copy machine and that James is actually in a doctor's office.
This opening shot and subsequent shots during the rest of the scene is a terrific indicator of what's to follow - rigid, well-composed tableaux which appear to be something other than they actually are. This is a consistent attribute of Juras's direction within the film as a whole. It's not just an effective visual flourish, but is rooted in the movie's structure, narrative and thematic core - that nothing is ever as it seems, but, uh, maybe it is, like, after all, but, like, who the fuck really knows in this cold world of contemporary ennui. I loved this point of view which permeates The Interior with the force and consistency of a master, yet possibly only achievable in an artist's earliest work (only to grow and morph with maturity and subsequent pictures).
During this thorough exam, James reveals a number of troubling symptoms which have the doctor quite concerned. She orders an MRI, passes him some documentation, then watches as he strangely keeps missing the insertion-target of his shirt pocket. She delicately expresses more concern. James has a roach twixt his fingers and has clearly been puffing on a joint whilst waiting for the doctor to come into the room.
This is our perfect entry point into the seemingly empty life of James. He works as a low level executive in an advertising agency run by a complete asshole (Andrew Hayes), spending much time gazing into a bathroom mirror, having a myriad of daydreams and eventually pulling a weirdly brilliant and hilarious stunt which gets him fired. He eventually applies for a new job, expressing his need to the proprietor (Ryan "Please Let This Man Be In More Movies" Austin) that he wishes to work with his hands. His interview is a success, he's hired by MAXI-VAC, an air duct cleaning firm, gets a shocking medical prognosis, breaks up with his girlfriend (Shaina Silver-Baird) without even looking her in the eye and then, finally decides that TRUE change is in order.
Two things were clear to me on a first helping of The Interior and remain with me after subsequent helpings. First of all, during this opening section, I howled with laughter so hysterically that I induced a few unwanted dribblings twixt my loins. Secondly, this first chunk of the movie features the funniest job interview scene that I've ever seen. EVER. NO KIDDING. Much of this is thanks to Juras's terrific writing, but also the insanely hysterical performance by Ryan Austin.
As the film, by this point, felt like James would indeed plunge into the "big change", I realized that after almost 30 minutes of screen time, something was missing. Seconds after this thought scuttled across my cerebellum, the film's title finally appeared on-screen.
No more noggin-scratching on my part and the title also announces that our hapless city-dweller is now in The Interior.
The story structure might feel wonky to some, but in reality, it's rooted in the very nature of what James has had to face all along. Going from a black comedy about urban emptiness to what becomes a chilling exploration of a man facing his own demons and maybe some real ones in nature, is so simple and powerful.
It helps that Juras is blessed with the cinematography of Othello J. Ubalde (who deserves some kind of award for the name most resembling a giallo lenser). Ubalde exposes gorgeously, mostly with natural light and light sources, his compositions are exquisite and his moves like the golden ooze of honey. Juras, for his part, wisely and bravely trusts in the power of the tableau, allowing one to take in every detail - no matter how beautiful, scary or mundane.
And yes, with a knapsack on his back, James has left cold, soul-bereft Toronto behind and is now in the middle of deep bush in British Columbia's dense, lush and unpopulated hinterlands. He breaks into a cottage, already shuttered for the season, helps himself to a nice bottle of wine and leaves this vestige of civilization behind.
Once ensconced in nature's loving embrace with his tent erected and his cooler hung high above on a tree so critters won't get at it, he seems, content. Now, here is where audiences must display a smidgen of patience. If they do, it will be rewarded a thousand-fold.
Mr. Juras shifts gears into borderline neorealism as we experience every simple, mundane act anyone might perform alone in deep bush. This includes eating, tent-erection, napping, reading, exploring, napping, eating, reading, sleeping soundly into the deep night and finally - YES! FINALLY! - taking a most leisurely dump in the woods. Heaven on Earth!
And then, whilst enjoying his bowel movement in the fresh air of the outdoors:
James sees someone.
Here, The Interior moves into an even slower crawl - never boring, but even more time for every twig snap to take on substantial, shuddering power. Not only does Juras spend time to establish the rhythm of time in nature, the often glorious feeling of being cozily blanketed in a tent in the deep night, but he slowly lures us into the creepy crawly terror of a man in a red jacket (Jake Beczala), seen only fleetingly, often at night, but eventually daring to lurk outside of the tent Jason is bundled in. Soon, the man even pushes against the nylon, ever-so gently, just enough to let James know he's there.
Juras uses a skillfully crafted sound design which captures the sounds of "silence" beautifully. His editing is a thing of beauty. His visual design is such that when a cut comes, it's not only absolutely necessary at just the right beat, but also allows for occasional cuts to simply take your breath away.
Curiously, the film often feels like a silent movie - that wonderful period of film history when both narrative and emotion had to be conveyed by picture and music (always live - sometimes with an orchestra and often with a lone piano or organ). There's one "scare" sequence where the blacks are deep and we catch fleeting brightly lit irises of James's horrified face as he moves through the dark in sickeningly horrifying slow motion as a simple Chopin piano solo carries us away with its haunting accompaniment.
This is the cinema of gooseflesh.
There are, of course, quite a few terrifying set pieces which are as scary as anything I've seen recently - not in cheap, obvious ways, but the kind of "scary" that gets deep in your bones. Most extraordinarily, Juras captures the joy and terror of nature, but does so by using his seemingly slender narrative, measured pace and attention to detail to explore that horrifying feeling that maybe, just maybe, all your senses play tricks on you, but then, as quickly as you settle into the notion that it's all a figment of loneliness, the realities rear their ugly heads and within no time, imagination and nightmare become one with reality.
And you know, this is what really fucking curdles your blood.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4-Stars
The Interior enjoyed its Toronto Premiere at TADFF 2015.