Thursday, October 3, 2019

Movie Review: Groupers

© Global Digital Releasing
Groupers has something in mind, and it is unafraid to be weirdly over the top about it.
by Jeremy Fogelman

I have the desire to be kind to movies, for as video essayist Mikey Neumann often says, “movies are miracles.” There are a million things that can go wrong even if everything else goes right, and the fact that a completed movie exists that tells something of a coherent story with the hint of themes is an accomplishment. More so for the small, true indie movies from the writer-director sets. So I often grant such films a bit of slack.

Groupers is one such movie from writer/director Anderson Cowan (his first feature film), and the movie is essentially a “one room” tale, similar to a stage play. Here we meet young doofuses Brad (Peter Mayer-Klepchick) and Dylan (Cameron Duckett), following a young bewitching lady named Meg (Nicole Dambro) into her unmarked van where she knocks them out and kidnaps them to a pool near an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere near Los Angeles.

When the two bros awaken, they discover themselves bound and tied in the emptied pool, with a set of tablets pointing at them. Meg reveals that she is a grad student and is planning an experiment (the absurdity of how illegal this would be is barely touched on) regarding the two. It seems that Brad and Dylan have tormented her troubled younger brother Orin (Jesse Pudles) due to his homosexuality and additional personality issues.

Both Brad and Dylan (who appears to the stupider of the pair) proclaim that homosexuality is a choice, which Meg expected. So she sets in motion her plan: For them to prove being gay is a choice, which will set them free in a set of mechanics that don’t really make sense if you think about it, but the movie pretends they do. The two are naturally resistant, especially when it appears one might have some closeted feelings.

© Global Digital Releasing
It’s a weird, if interesting setup, and the near-sociopathy of Meg is balanced against her angry and oddly convivial rapport with the two homophobic idiots. It seems her desire for revenge is oddly balanced with her desire for her “grad student study,” and there are some repetitive scenes for a while, but things get out of control halfway through the movie when her unbalanced, drugged out brother Orin shows up. Further people show up and are honestly tiresome and clich├ęd, bordering on racist stereotypes.

The last segment of the movie is so disconnected from the start, it loses steam and the odd, almost funny level of absurdity that was carrying through the movie changes to a bunch of conversations that twist around on each other until the movie simply ends in a way that feels like it should be more cathartic than it is -- but part of the issue is the heavy nature of the theme, the homophobic tendencies of some teenage boys and the potential way some closeted ones are lashing out.

The movie cannot sustain this level of self-reflection, and thus ultimately wastes away in a stream of conversational back and forth with characters we barely care about, if at all. Meg is the only character with any level of connection to the audience, and much of this is due to Nicole Dambro’s heated, unusually sincere performance of a madwoman scientist. The two bros are fine, given what they are asked to do, but the rest of the gang are thin at best.

A positive note about the whole thing is that it flows easily enough, only really stuttering in the final act to feel bored (not coincidentally, when Meg loses focus of the movie). I think my main takeaway is that visually speaking, the movie shows some promise, but this isn’t as much of a surprise, as the cinematographer may be new as DP, but he’s been second unit on a few Christopher Nolan and Marvel movies.

The other takeaway is that Nicole Dambro is great, and she needs to be cast in more interesting things in the future.

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