If you were fortunate enough to live in a “select city,” you may have gone to your local theater and watched Bad Turn Worse. If you didn’t you missed one of the best indie films to come out last year. Fortunately, Bad Turn Worse is out on DVD and Blu-Ray.
From the beginning Bad Turn Worse wants to be a hard-boiled crime, noir film. Sue, played by Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire) sets up the hard-boiled premise in the opening scene when she explains to Bobby (Shameless’s Jeremy Allen White) that Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me, Pop. 1280) once said there were 32 different ways to write a novel, but there was only one plot. The one plot, according to Thompson, is nothing is what it seems to be.
However, the “nothing is what it seems” never materializes in the film because everything in BTW is what it seems. The set up is pretty standard crime fare: money is stolen from the wrong person and the wrong person wants some payback. From there, the audience can guess what will happen in every scene that follows: a baby monitor under Sue’s bed is a sure sign someone is going to hear Sue and Bobby having sex later in the film, a bluff turns out not to be a bluff, and the jealous boyfriend tries to get even. BTW isn’t trying to hide anything from the audience.
BTW also failed at the noir aspect referred to in Thompson’s quote. From Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (often referred to as the first noir film) to the Coen Brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t There (modern “neo-noir” at it’s finest), film noir relies on the use of lighting throughout the film. Film noir, coined by the French, gets its name by how the lighter and darker tones play off each other to create tense moments, amongst other emotions, in a scene.
The one scene in the movie that uses lighting rather well comes when Sue and B.J. (Sue’s boyfriend played by Logan Huffman) are talking in a hotel bathroom. The bathroom is awash in different hues of yellow light. The yellow light, combined with a tight camera shot, creates a claustrophobic scene intended to make the audience feel as pressured as Sue does at the moment. However, BTW is lighted like any other movie attempting to achieve a grittier feel in a post-Tarantino indie landscape.
All this may seem like the movie was not good, but that is far from the truth. What makes BTW work is the acting and the cinematography. The three main characters, all teenagers, could have been like a lot of teenage characters in movies where the characters were clearly meant to be adults. The list is long of movies with teenage characters who act and say things well beyond their years. Most of the time it’s so unbelievable what teenagers do and say (like Ellen Page in Hard Candy) it makes the movie un-watchable. This isn’t the case with the teenager characters in BTW. The acting and dialog is delivered in a way we believe what they are telling us. It also doesn’t hurt that the movie has established Sue as someone who is smarter than her peers.
However, the standout performance goes to Mark Pellegrino. Many viewers may remember Pellegrino from Supernatural or Lost. The more discerning viewers will know Pellegrino as the thug who gave the Dude a swirly in The Big Lebowski. In BTW, Pellegrino shines as Giff, B.J. and Bobby’s dirty boss who sends them to steal a lot of money from his boss. Giff is as scummy as they come and Pellegrino plays it to the fullest.
In the film noir, hard-boiled crime sense, the lighting and cinematography do not work in BTW. If the directors had left out the Jim Thompson line the preconceived notion that BTW was going to be noir, crime would not be there to color our expectations. However, if you don’t know Jim Thompson you know Texas. Texas is hot and sweaty. The lighting and cinematography amplify both to the point where even the viewer feels like they are sweating. These two elements make up for the few flaws in the film.
BTW a good movie, a movie worth watching. Rent, stream, or own it and you won’t regret it.