Trash Fire is an acquired taste. It’s doubtful that it will become a camp classic, although fans of off-kilter horror films may find this little flick enjoyable.
Too bad Halloween is over, the romantic comedy meets horror film Trash Fire would have been a nice addition to the campy holiday genre. The Adrian Grenier-starring film, which made its world premiere during the Midnight section of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, doesn’t quite live up to its name (and with a name like Trash, that is a good thing), although there is much to be desired in terms of overall cohesiveness and character likeability. Trash Fire may leave you thinking, WTF?– but if you can embrace the absurd then perhaps you can find some desirability here.
Immediately, writer/director Richard Bates Jr. thrusts his audience into the stylized world of a common horror film, complete with that greenish hue and monotone bass synth score. However, what is truly horrifying is witnessing the dysfunctional relationship between Owen (Grenier) and his girlfriend Isabel (Angela Trimbur). Owen is hard to sympathize with at first; his smart-ass attitude is alienating to both his relationships onscreen and the audience’s relationship with him. He relentlessly insults Isabel’s straight-laced, religious brother, Caleb (Matthew Gray Gubler), calling him a beige earthworm among other things. Just as the audience should give up any hope for Owen’s self-reflection, Isabel’s unexpected pregnancy forces him to re-examine his own childhood and attempt to make amends with his estranged younger sister, Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord).
The actual “horror”part of Trash Fire comes into play in the second half of the film. Violent flashbacks and seizures plague Owen, who grew up believing that an accidental fire he set killed both of his parents and left Pearl scarred for life. At this point in the film, the Owen we knew in the first act is completely transformed into a caring, selfless boyfriend (a major character overhaul that feels too rushed to be believable). Owen’s snarky grandmother Violet (Fionnula Flanagan), whose true colors prove she is an evil woman, rounds out this crazy cast of characters.
While Trash Fire is not the type of film I typically gravitate towards, I give credit to Richard for executing his vision with intention. The color of the film is purposefully not welcoming or warm, perhaps a visual representation of Owen’s discomfort with the relationships in his own life. The characters rarely converse together in the same frame, instead, addressing the camera in a medium shot. This direction, while original, feels unorganic– like the film is comprised of multiple “scenes” with a specific start and end point– rather than feeling like a fluid story.
Trash Fire is an acquired taste. It’s doubtful that it will become a camp classic, although fans of off-kilter horror films may find this little flick enjoyable. But if this review can be summed up in a single image, look no further that the above picture. Grenier and Trimbur’s faces say it all.
‘Trash Fire’ is rated R for some disturbing violence/behavior, strong sexuality, nudity, and language. 91 minutes. Now playing at the Laemmle Monica Film Center and on VOD.