The quirkiness of contemporary indie films would have us believe outlandish idiosyncrasy is directly proportionate to appeal and charm, but Brian McGuire has always operated by a much truer oddball code, pulling from – to paraphrase Aimee Mann – the ranks of the freaks who suspect they could never love or be loved by anyone (think Vincent Gallo in Buffalo ’66, or Philip Seymour Hoffman in Happiness). Characters in McGuire’s films The Black Belle, Carlos Spills the Beans and Prevertere are inappropriate, resentful and unduly hostile; varying degrees of asshole across the board. They’re also sexually deprived, dysfunctional and obsessed. Perverts one and all.
In WiNdOw LiCkEr, Ben Wild (played by the director) is all of the above, but so autistically damaged and desperately down and out, you can’t help but feel for him. Opening with a brilliantly edited hip hop title sequence of Ben dancing awfully in his undies for an internet contest (“ a Twitter/YouTube thing but better”), his hopes of winning $500 to cover the month’s rent are slim to nothing. The rest of Ben’s heavily medicated day is spent swearing at his young nephews and nieces over Skype while pining for an imaginary past where he still had opportunities. There’s lots of talk of meeting up with old high school friends, but the first person knocking at Ben’s door is a more chipper version of himself. The split screen of them sharing the same scene can’t claim the seamlessness of this year’s crop of doppelganger films (The Double, Enemy, The Pretty One), but the obvious splicing of two different shots of the same actor at opposite ends of the table is an aesthetic whose visible cracks are symptomatic of a protagonist coming apart at the seams.
Alternating between video games, reality TV and live sex cams, Ben’s lonely, indoor experience staring at screens is a miracle of no budget, post-production inventiveness. All of these desensitizing distractions that keep Ben from making something of himself were created from the ground up on a laptop by McGuire, distinct worlds within the world of the story, presented with the artistic ugliness of Lars Von Trier at his most bare, and all the visual assaultiveness of Gaspar Noé.
Mind Dot, is a video game of a brain floating in space (much like the guy at the controls), firing lasers at animal space invaders. “Warning! Richard Gere approaching!” A robot voice intones when a giant gerbil appears on screen – it’s this kind of demented genius that makes a strong case for taking drugs during the creative process.
Almost as inspired is the reality television show Joe Pop, which puts Jersey Shore in the Big Brother house and attempts to crown the world’s most popular man. When we first tune in, the four remaining douchebags (superbly played by McGuire regulars Bret Roberts, Joey Capone, James Duval and Logan Sparks, all trying to ‘out bro’ one another) are lounging around wearing baseball caps baring the logo of the show’s sponsor, ‘Boobie Shack’, which constantly flashes up on screen along with other idents and info streams advertising upcoming shows on the same network. Accurately capturing today’s television which never allows you to forget what’s coming up next, it’s just as well really, the dramatic highpoint of Joe Pop being one housemate punching another in the balls, after which a house meeting is called to decide who is at fault, while a crash-edited recap of the inciting nut shot plays from eight different angles in slow motion.
At first, the sex cams Ben jerks off to look as though they’ve just been pulled off the net, but as this confidence-corroding routine starts to bleed into Ben’s reality with him appearing on the other side of the live feed, we realize that this too, has been meticulously created by McGuire, from the deign of the website to the enticements of the actress playing with sex toys. These masturbatory ejaculations of neurosis could be seen as self-indulgence on the part of their creator were it not for McGuire’s sad clown face, and his extraordinary ability to express empathy while being so utterly embittered. Yank-and-crank scenes are a dime a dozen in any number of ‘edgy’ indies, but none are set to such thoroughly downbeat music as these, which rank amongst the most emotionally crushing scenes of a man chocking his chicken you’ll ever see.
When he’s not masturbating, McGuire is monologuing, a skill that’s right up there with his lo-fi visual ingenuity. One of Ben’s cam sessions is interrupted by a scam company, cold calling him with an offer to significantly lower his sizable debt. A relentless character assassination aimed at guilting Ben into paying up disrespectfully lays out a lot of backstory, including the fact that Ben is chronically unemployed, his mum is very sick and that his car just got repossessed. All of these are truths that cut to the core of who Ben is, and without saying much at all, McGuire’s reactions to his laundry list of failures lets us know how much the truth hurts.
It’s a tour de force scene bettered only by the arrival of Ben’s sister Alda (Nina Millin), an ex-alcoholic whose replaced the booze with coffee and is so wired she can’t stop talking. Alda’s torrent of verbal diarrhea hilariously match cuts across a conversation in the house, the car, a train and finally the beach, without Millin pausing for breath. It’s another unpleasant interaction that best captures the film’s overall energy – like being trapped in a small broom closet with someone on uppers. Posters for similarly chemically fuelled movies will often look for hyperbolic points of comparison (’it’s like blank on acid!). By the time a tiger starts running amuck in Ben’s apartment as it’s being consumed by crudely composited flames, and the T-Rex from Jurassic Park pokes its head down the hallway to roar in Ben’s face, it’s clear that with or without acid, WiNdOw LiCkEr is a dark, depressive trip like nothing else.
First published by Vérité Film Magazine on July 16, 2014