As I enter my Tardis and head back in time to 2014, I am pleasantly reminded of my Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF) experience with the screening of Richard Bates Jr’s Suburban Gothic. It was a strange and off kilter film that was a crowd pleaser to the packed house in attendance that evening. It was with the introduction of Suburban Gothic that lead me to Bates’ earlier film, Excision. Released in 2012, Excision was a bold horror comedy that ended up on our Best Horrors of 2012 list when the year was in the books.
So it is with tepid excitement when I read that writer/director Richard Bates Jr. was back again at the TADFF in 2016 with his new film, Trash Fire which upon our early review we can attest to being his best yet. Trash Fire stars some familiar faces including Adrian Grenier (HBO’s Entourage), Angela Trimbur (The Final Girls) and Matthew Gray Gluber (Criminal Minds) who works again with Bates after starring in Suburban Gothic.
Trash Fire should be considered more black comedy than horror. It engulfs around the story of Owen (Grenier). Owen is a fractured individual. A verbally aggressive boyfriend to Isabel (Trimbur) who has spent years carrying the heavy guilt torch of a family fire that killed his parents and left his sister scarred and reclusive. Isabel has suffered through Owen’s rapid fire disparaging and comes close to her breaking point when she becomes pregnant with Owen’s child. Owen wants an abortion, well, at first. As we learn early, Owen is not particularly stable and his ideas and opinion changes do not come as a surprise. But Owen has a change of heart and wants to prove to Isabel that he would be a good father. The discussion leads to the Isabel wanting to meet Owen’s sister and grandmother who still holds a grudge for the family tragedy and Owen’s unfortunate involvement.
And it’s during this family visit that Trash Fire gets its mojo going in full gear. Family secrets get revealed. Secrets that had they been known could have changed Owen’s lifetime burden. Owen’s grandmother (actress Fionnula Flanagan) steals the movie from out underneath the two leads when she gets to chew on the chunkiest bits of the films screenplay but everyone holds their own and keeps Trash Fire incredibly interesting while keeping its humor as dark as a photography class lab room.
Trash Fire doesn’t have that one moment that you will reference in remembrance. Instead it is backed by a solid script that allows for the nastiness in everyone to have its due. And make no mistake – everyone in this film is flawed or nasty in some stretch. Be it Isabel who complains that Owen’s balls smell bad or the grandmother who throws barbs like a rapper on his fifth RedBull.
Trash Fire ends up being Richard Bates Jr.’s best film to date. Its textured and sinister while being funny in all the right ways in all the wrong places.