M.L. Miller here! As I go into my tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Seven of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2016 and going through September 30, 2017. I have posted Best of lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t! Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Released on November 7, 2016! Available On Demand, digital download, & DVD here from Orion Pictures! Also streaming on Tubi!
TRASH FIRE (2016)
aka THE WRATH
Directed by Richard Bates Jr.
Written by Richard Bates Jr.
Starring Adrian Grenier, Angela Trimbur, Fionnula Flanagan, AnnaLynne McCord, Sally Kirkland, Matthew Gray Gubler, Ezra Buzzington, Molly McCook, Ray Santiago, Clayton Jackson, Alexa Hamilton, Karl Schott, Brayden Austin, Ruby Lightfoot
Richard Bates Jr. gets a long leash from me simply because he is the twisted mind that unleashed EXCISION upon horror audiences a few short years ago. I found his follow up, SUBURBAN GOTHIC to be a misfire in almost every way. I feared the filmmaker was going to be a one hit wonder at the time, but still went in optimistically to TRASH FIRE, hoping some of that demented spark that blew me away with EXCISION would show up once again. While I still name EXCISION Bates’ best film so far (even including the much more recent TONE-DEAF), TRASH FIRE is my kind of twisted and one hell of an entertaining film.
Isabel (THE FINAL GIRLS’ Angela Trimbur) and Owen (ENTORAGE’s Adrian Grenier) have a horrible relationship, but just when Isabel has had enough, she finds out she is pregnant. Owen vows to change his ways and give in to Isabel’s requests to meet his family. But Isabel doesn’t know what she is in for when she meets Owen’s estranged grandmother Violet (THE OTHERS’ Fionnula Flanagan) who cares for Owen’s sister Pearl (EXCISION’s AnnaLynne McCord) who was scarred in a fire that killed Owen’s parents when he was young. Upon returning, Isabel immediately gets on Violet’s bad side as it sex out of wedlock betrays her strict religious values. Thus begins a battle of wits between Violet and Isabelle as Owen copes with the immense guilt he carries from his troubled past.
While it isn’t as resonant as EXCISION, TRASH FIRE dares venture into equally taboo territory with a darkly comic twist. Like EXCISION, Bates displays strong feelings about the horrors of the modern family and moral hypocrisy as he highlights the bizarre religious value system strictly upheld by Violet in contrast to the modern and off-kilter relationship of Owen and Isabel. This was a strong theme in EXCISION as well, so Bates is not venturing into uncharted territory with TRASH FIRE, but definitely takes things to a more adult level as he focuses on a young couple instead of teenage life in his previous film. This seems to be a running theme as it is the same throughway that makes up TONE DEAF’s plot (I have honestly blocked out the forgettable SUBURBAN GOTHIC, so I don’t remember if it’s the same theme there). I don’t think that Bates will ever run out of material if he keeps to this theme about the stuffy old in conflict with the rebellious youth, but maybe as a challenge for himself, he might want to delve into other territories, lest his message gets stale.
Almost immediately, we are made privy to the fact that Isabel and Owen would be better off apart and bring out the worst in one another. The trick Bates has to pull off with TRASH FIRE is to make these two horrible people sympathetic through the course of the film and he pulls it off with a little help from Trimbur and Grenier, who give fantastic performances. Making Violet such a despicable antagonist helps a lot, but Trimbur exudes a charm that she rarely gets to show in her previous films like Mickey Keating’s artsy PSYCHOPATHS and the comedic THE FINAL GIRLS. Grenier might get top billing, but this is Trimbur’s film to shine and shine she does. Grenier is surprisingly likable here as well – something that surprised me as he was the least likable of his cast in ENTORAGE, in my opinion. Because these two actors do such a great job riffing off of one another and then teaming up when Violet threatens their relationship, my feelings for the two characters were at a complete turnaround by the end, as I was rooting for these two to survive it all.
There are some pretty suspenseful moments in TRASH FIRE. Violet’s disapproval of the relationship goes to some biblically drastic lengths. But instead of the over the top dream-sequences that were so prevalent in EXCISION, Bates relies on more subtle scares and creepy moments. AnnaLynne McCord is one of my favorite actresses as she seems absolutely fearless in every performance she delivers. She appears to be Bates muse as she shows up in one form or another in all of his movies. Here she adds to the creep factor as Peal, who is severely burned and mentally twisted from living with Violet for so long. While she hardly comes out from behind her matted hair, McCord shines once again in this horrifying minor role that is crucial to the entire plot.
Like EXCISION, there is a lot of morbid humor in TRASH FIRE and it’s sure to offend some of the more sensitive types. Like a modern day John Waters, Bates takes a pretty strong stance against organized religion, but it also isn’t afraid to show some downright twisted and perverse imagery and juxtaposing them with traditional mores. While there are a lot of laughs to be had, they are the darkly comedic kind. Still, I laughed and gasped a lot with TRASH FIRE as the film continues to show Bates morbid wit and wry contempt towards American values.
THE 2016-2017 COUNTDOWN!
#22 – TRASH FIRE
#23 – 47 METERS DOWN
#24 – HELL HOUSE LLC
#25 – THE SUBLET
#26 – PATCHWORK
#27 – IT STAINS THE SANDS RED
#28 – GERALD’S GAME
#29 – LAKE BODOM
#30 – NIGHT OF SOMETHING STRANGE
#31 – THE EVIL WITHIN
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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