Irrepressibly inventive and often impulsively unrestrained, Emily Cohn’s CRSHD guilelessly celebrates digital youth culture and its sometimes messy inconsistency with abundant energy and attitude. A film that’s certain to resonate with its target demographic, Cohn’s debut feature may also get pigeonholed by its focused narrowcasting as it eventually seeks a broader audience.
We’re in familiar territory on the campus of a small Ohio private college as the pic opens, where Izzy (Isabelle Barbier) attempts to ignore her growing dread over an astronomy final exam looming over the last few days of her freshman year. Instead, she succumbs to intense peer pressure from best friends Fiona (Sadie Scott) and Anuka (Deeksha Ketkar), bailing on study sessions to join them in attempting to score invitations to an exclusive “crush party” they’ve discovered on Instagram. The conditions for admission are simple: You can submit your crush to have them invited, but you only receive an invitation if somebody crushes you. The girls suspect there may be a way to beat the odds if they can just track down the party organizers, a quest that leads them hesitantly into the town’s unknown suburban recesses.
Cohn opens the movie with an amusing animated credit sequence imitating a certain iconic 1980s video game that succinctly summarizes Izzy’s constellation of possibilities among campus guys: stoner, hot artist, political activist, musician, “other.” Izzy’s secret agenda, known only to Fiona, is to finally find someone to lose her virginity with. It’s not that she’s desperate or anything, but as Fiona reminds her, this party will be her last opportunity to “bone” a guy before spending an uneventful summer with her grandparents.
Izzy has several potential candidates for her crush invite, including prospect number one Nolan (Abdul Seidu), a smart, soulful DJ, although every time she speaks to him Izzy feels like they fail to connect. Then there’s Georgie (L.H. Gonzalez), a cute, clever barista who serves up Izzy’s daily coffee order, but she’s not sure he remembers who she is half of the time. Oliver (Ralph Fineberg), her astro classmate, seems a bit overeager and she dismisses him from consideration, concluding he’s just “awkward,” which is kind of funny coming from someone as socially inept as she is. So when she finally receives the party invitation text confirming “you’ve been crushed,” Izzy must decide if she has the nerve to step up and give fate a chance.
Digital natives that they are, Izzy and her friends use a consciously curated suite of apps to message one another, including texts, Facebook, Insta and Tinder, allowing Cohn to visually enhance a dynamic swirl of communication modes. Other techniques, such as short scenes featuring characters in direct address to the camera, are more self-conscious and not as effective, particularly when the action repeatedly cuts to the girls speaking their text messages out loud, complete with descriptions of the emojis they’re sending one another.
To be sure, continuity is also sometimes an issue and there’s a fair amount of filler that rehashes typical college humor and doesn’t do much to advance the plot. But then Cohn will cut to one of Izzy’s dizzying fantasy sequences that has her speed-making out with one of her cute crushes and events spin off in a different direction. Or she’ll toss her characters into an unexpected scene, like when the girls charm a couple of random guys into getting them drunk in some roadside cornfield, ending up too wasted to drive themselves safely home to prep for their epic party.
It’s this mixture of convention and unpredictability that keeps CRSHD consistently surprising, even if the performances are often just a notch or two above what can be expected from nonprofessionals and the production values sometimes expose the film’s minimal budget a bit too obviously. In any case, though, it isn’t anything that can’t be enhanced by a cool Instagram filter or contextualized with an ironic Facebook post.
Production companies: ESC Productions, 30c Productions
Cast: Isabelle Barbier, Deeksha Ketkar, Sadie Scott, Will Janowitz, L.H. Gonzalez, Abdul Seidu, Dylan Rogers, Ralph Fineberg, L.H. Gonzalez
Director-writer: Emily Cohn
Producers: Jennifer George, Abby Pucker, Barrett Rouen, Emily Cohn
Executive producer: Judy McGrath
Director of photography: Saaniya Zaveri
Production designer: Wulfahrt Blankfield
Costume designer: Ruth Arden Lewsis
Editors: Emily Cohn, Michelle Botticell
Music: Matthew Liam Nicholson
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Viewpoints)
Sales: Visit Films