'I Blame Society': Film Review

Blame Society - Rotterdam - Publicity Still - H 2020
International Film Festival Rotterdam
A half-baked satire, however legitimate its complaints.

In her feature debut, Gillian Wallace Horvat plays an aspiring filmmaker who'll literally kill to get her first film off the ground.

A deeply disappointing follow-up to her promising 2015 short Kiss Kiss Fingerbang, Gillian Wallace Horvat's I Blame Society is a first feature that points out many of its faults as it goes, as if to transmute them into satirical jabs at an uncertain object. Though its title identifies a broad target and the script leans toward narrowing things down to film-biz paternalism, a handful of self-referential remarks suggest it's actually criticizing its own existence — the result of a filmmaker so eager to make a movie she'll embrace whatever idea's at hand, no matter how half-baked.

While the earlier short film put across its comic-bizarro premise with the aid of two gifted leads, Anton Yelchin and Kate Lyn Sheil, the feature relies mostly on the shaky acting chops of Horvat herself. It further embraces (and exaggerates) amateurishness by mimicking a self-shot documentary: It's surely a wink-wink moment when a DP hands our protagonist a cheap camera and says, "Here's the zoom, here's the focus, that's all you need to know." But self-awareness doesn't make the intentionally ugly film any more enjoyable to watch.

Horvat plays "Gillian," whose dreams of filmmaking are floundering. Her "fucked up" shorts have earned some attention, but her manager dumps her after deciding a proposed feature script (something to do with Israel) is unsellable. Desperate to just make a movie, she returns to a dumb idea her boyfriend Keith (Keith Poulson) hates: Having been told once that she'd make a good murderer (she took it as a compliment), she wants to make a doc about how that alternate career path might go. Unfortunately, her weird "if I were to do it" project will soon look about as hypothetical as O.J. Simpson's If I Did It.

Gillian's doubts about the industry are confirmed by a cringe-funny meeting with two prolific "broducers" — indie filmmakers growing an empire by co-opting the talent around them. They're clearly all talk when it comes to inclusivity, empowerment and intersexuali— sorry, make that intersectionality. (Other main characters have real people's names, but Horvat lets viewers draw their own parallels, if any, here.) The brothers offer Gillian an insulting "opportunity" sure to benefit themselves more than her. So instead, ignoring the possibility that her lack of success has something to do with a dearth of good ideas, she throws herself into the murder project.

Carrying an assortment of cheap digital cameras to film her exploits, Gillian is a one-woman team, roaming L.A. and trying to imagine what the birth of a killer looks like. She shoplifts some cough syrup, hoping to kickstart an adrenaline addiction; she breaks into a stranger's house just for kicks. The latter episode demonstrates how indifferent Horvat is to whether viewers will believe the action: Gillian cases the joint in broad daylight, hoisting a selfie stick the whole time; here and later on, she might as well have a cloak of invisibility around her.

Soon, she's actually killing people, in one implausible scene after another. The conceit of an ordinary person killing in pursuit of fame or misguided self-actualization is hardly a new one, and from 1959's A Bucket of Blood to last year's Spree, most of this film's predecessors have made more sense of protagonists' methods and motives — not to mention crafting stories offering more suspense, humor and/or social critique.

As Gillian progresses from one random victim to the next, the film offers one hint that it was aiming for a kind of absurdism Horvat accomplished in Kiss Kiss but can't realize successfully here: Whenever she lets a new stranger take her home to the place she'll kill him, Gillian somehow has a giant homemade dolly rig set up, ready to film the action. The gag might earn a chuckle, but it's just another indicator that Horvat's script, cowritten by costar Chase Williamson, needed much more work before shooting commenced.

Throughout, that script cheekily assures us it's aware what haters will say about this film. "I know, I'm really jeopardizing my likability," Gillian sarcastically admits at one point. More often, complaints come from characters whose problematic personalities might render their opinions moot. But putting these complaints in the mouths of douchebags doesn't prove they're all unfair. Amid their smarmily camouflaged sexism, for instance, those broducers render a verdict on Gillian's magnum opus that is true and damning, whether the movie in question is a heartfelt drama or a loony meta-movie satire: "I just didn't buy it."

Production company: Nowhere
Distributor: Cranked Up (Available Friday, January 8, in virtual theaters)
Cast: Gillian Wallace Horvat, Keith Poulson, Chase Williamson, Lucas Kavner, Morgan Krantz, Alexia Rasmussen, Olivia Kuan, Jennifer Kim
Director: Gillian Wallace Horvat
Screenwriters: Gillian Wallace Horvat, Chase Williamson
Producers: Laura Tunstall, Mette-Marie Kongsved, Michelle Craig, Monte Zajick
Executive producers: Brent Brewer, Brett Brewer, Jamie Rabineau, Piero Frescobaldi, Gilles Boisselet
Director of photography: Olivia Kuan
Production designer: Liz Toonkel
Editor: Sarah Beth Shapiro
Composer: Philip Beaudreau

83 minutes