Mickey Keating wants us to know he’s seen Taxi Driver. Well, at least the shoot out at the end. In Psychopaths, a new low for the most uninteresting horror director working today, he restages a snippet of the brothel shootout, shot for shot. He also wants us to know he’s seen Audition. Well, at least the torture scene at the end. But Martin Scorsese and Takashi Miike understand that something needs context to be truly horrific. The ends of Taxi Driver and Audition wouldn’t be nearly as powerful without the rest of the movie laying the groundwork. Which is why those scenes are at the end and not merely edited in at some random spot. Keating apes, without understanding, to such a degree that his movie is barely even a movie.
In this collection of vignettes about psychopaths with no motivation or backstory, no one talks to anyone else. Most of the scenes are just people doing stuff into the camera, as if they were shot on a day when none of the other actors showed up. “Oh well,” Keating must have said, rolling the camera anyway. “Just act straight into the camera and we’ll fix it in post!”
It’s bitterly disappointing the actors don’t get to work with each other in any meaningful way, since there’s a considerable amount of talent on display. The delightfully energetic Angela Trimbur and the confidently oily James Landry Herbert, for instance. Some footage of Larry Fessenden screaming, which isn’t really what he does best, but I’ll take whatever Fessenden I can get. The wickedly funny Jeremy Gardner has the only scene in which any dialogue worth hearing happens. He plays a frazzled cop driven mad by a bug in his ear. While investigating the Taxi Driver brothel massacre scene, he’s questioning a woman who has just shot someone. He asks her to give him her gun. “Why?” she asks. It’s her gun and she wants to keep it.
“Why?,” he responds, taken aback that she would question his authority as the cop in the scene. “Because I don’t want you fucking going Little Orphan Annie on anybody else tonight, that’s why. Now give me the fucking piece.” An argument ensues and Gardner explodes with apoplectic rage. When she’s finally cowed into handing over the gun, his anger subsides. As he checks the chamber, he quietly mutters that he meant Annie Oakley.
Gardner wrote, directed, and starred in a sly no-budget zombie movie called The Battery. His movie had the courage to ask — and answer — the question, How bored would you have to be to masturbate to a zombie whose clothes have fallen off? As an actor, he’s wonderfully unhinged, naturalistic, funny, and fuzzily bearded, a Zach Galifianakis perfectly suited for horror movies or absurd black comedies. But putative writer/director Keating has no idea what to do with him. He doesn’t understand that absurdity isn’t the same as randomness, which just leaves everyone dangling pointlessly. Gardner’s cop belongs on the same force as Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong Cops, because Dupieux understands that you don’t just film stuff and stitch it together. He knows to offer something relatable, because when everything is absurd, nothing is absurd. Absurdity needs a support structure. It needs people interacting with each other. Stephen Spinella’s monologue at the beginning of Dupieux’s Rubber, delivered directly into the camera, sets the tone. It doesn’t establish the format.
And, of course, Ashley Bell is in Psychopaths. Ah, Ashley Bell. Ever since the flick of her sword at the end of teen apocalypse thriller The Day, I’ve been an enthusiastic fan. The way her dark eyes can flicker malice in both Last Exorcism movies (and especially the sadly overlooked Last Exorcism Part II). Her unflagging willingness to participate in the unfunny Austin sex comedy Love & Air Sex. Stuck as second fiddle to brooding douchebag Chase Williamson in the clumsily CG-driven superhero juvenalia Sparks. Playing it straight alongside some far less talented ingenue pretending to be the psycho in the Lifetime thriller Don’t Wake Mommy.
At least Keating is as enamoured of Bell as I am (this must be a new development since he wasted her presence in his last movie, Carnage Park). The best thing I can say about Psychopaths is that it shuts up long enough to let Bell demonstrate her talent as a performer. Keating leaves the camera running for long stretches while she just does her thing. And what a thing it is. She gets an extended musical number, all in one take. She gets a chilling conversation with herself in the mirror that would make Andy Serkis’ Gollum proud, also all in one take. The camera is right up in her face, ready to capture the slightest hint of uncertainty or affectation. There is none. By the time she’s asked to be a mere psycho killer, she has already offered this movie far more than it deserves. And it never even occurred to Keating to save the good stuff for last. So Psychopaths just sort of flickers out and stops, leaving some truly memorable actors with a forgettable hole in their IMDB credits.
Great cast, shame about the movie. If you must watch it, watch it on Amazon.com to support Quarter to Three!