STIFF Film Review – Headcase

STIFF Film Review – Headcase

Headcase Movie PosterThe amount of pluck and drive necessary to produce an independent feature is immensely admirable, and so it makes it hard for me to talk about Headcase with the candidness necessary to compose a film review. But here it goes: Headcase is a film whose title is as generic as the rest of its parts. There is no uniqueness of vision or creative ingenuity on display here; everything about this film is uninspired. It attempts to smooth over its own clichés with a sense of self-awareness that is all too obvious of a crutch. It wants to be both a dark comedy and a crime film, but it is devoid of both humor and menace. In their attempt to create a madcap comedy of errors about an unlikeable hero’s run-in with the mob, the filmmakers have crafted a film that, it pains me to say, is weightless and dull.

The film opens with the main character getting fired from his job for displaying a lack of passion and a severe antagonism towards his co-workers. He is not a likeable guy. This is clumsily telegraphed to the audience in his response to a friend asking a favor of him: “I’m not big on favors, or helping out my fellow manit’s kind of, like, my policy.” Now the thing about creating protagonists that are unlikeable is that they need to at least be compelling enough to demand our attention. Craig is the opposite of compelling. He doesn’t even gather enough interest to be repulsive; he’s simply a sardonic loser. Part of the point of the film is that he is such a jerk, I get it, but I still have to care enough about the jerk to be willing to sit for two hours waiting to watch him change, or not. Fargo is a movie that successfully created such a character in Jerry Lundegaard, played by William H. Macy, a character so despicable that he has his wife kidnapped for ransom. However, Fargo is immensely watchable because Jerry is a fully fleshed out, compelling character and there are stakes to the gamehis wife’s life.

In Headcase, there are no stakes. For being a film about a man’s run-in with the mob, it is surprisingly toothless. The actor playing the mob boss (Ken Olsen) is oddly avuncular and unintimidating. He holds no menace. None of the mobsters do. They hold guns and drop the F-bomb as if uncomfortable with them. We meet these characters after our snarky hero, Craig (Anthony Greene), begrudgingly decides to take on the favor previously mentioned and deliver a box for his next door neighbor (Brad Siciliano). When Craig initially sees the box, he calls it a “head box.” “It’s the type of box,” he says, “that when you see it in movies, there’s a head in it.” Reassured by the neighbor, he delivers the box and the mob-boss opens it to findwell, you can guess what. This sparks a muddled chain of events, of which the film follows the most uninteresting thread. We never find out whose head was in the box or why or what sort of mob war is taking place; instead, we are witness to Craig running in circles, instead of away from the mob. This might have worked had the lighting, the sound, the cinematography, or the script created a sense of a threat, of danger or peril. As it is, there is no tension and all of the deaths happen just off screen and aren’t as visceral or disturbing as they need to be to infuse the film with dread.

Headcase 1

In the balancing act necessary to create a darkly comic crime film, the filmmakers landed too heavily on the comedic side of things. Unfortunately, the film isn’t very funny, either. It utilizes the sort of self-referential, self-aware humor popular with Joss Whedon, but employed more successfully by him because it is used intelligently. In Headcase, the self-aware humor is used as a crutch or a band-aid to smooth over the weaknesses of plot and character. Too many times, characters become mouthpieces for the audience’s incredulity. One mob member calls the head-in-the-box idea cliché; the same mob member later says, “this is getting repetitive,” when they have gone through the motions of capturing Craig for the third or fourth time. The filmmakers also try to employ a Tarantino-like banter between characters, but where Tarantino’s banter is witty, this film’s banter about work, life, and the nature of open relationships verges on banal.

The indiegogo profile for Headcase details the film’s budget at $50,000, which is a pretty good chunk of change for an indie film. They used the budget well: the film looks good. Everything is in focus, the camera moves steadily and smoothly, and there’s a polish to the look of the film. What it lacks, though, is atmosphere. The time they spent making the film look professional might have been better used to create an ambiance. Everything is sunny and well-lit, which is sort of antithetical to a darkly comic crime film. There are no dark shadows looming at the edges. It belies a clumsiness and lack of thoughtfulness that infects every other aspect of the film. As an indie-film lover, I had high hopes for this film, and throughout, I seriously wanted to like it. But as it is, Headcase is a crime film without the blood and a comedy without the humor.

Final Grade: C-

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