Buzzard: SXSW Review

Sob Noisse
A chilly allegory whose antihero is both compelling and repulsive.

Joel Potrykus follows a small-time scammer who thinks he's about to get caught.

AUSTIN – A dark reflection of the man-children populating contemporary American comedies, the protagonist of Joel Potrykus's Buzzard is so disaffected he seems almost to resent his own existence. Observing the sullen young man at a moment where everyday larceny may be leading to a psychopathic breakdown, the emotionally chilly film balances uneasy humor with faint suspense, setting up an inevitable-seeming end and wondering if it can be avoided. The unsettling result, bound soon for a slot at New Directors/New Films, concludes the director's "Animal Trilogy" and should earn respect at fests and in art houses.

Joshua Burge plays Marty, a temp employee at a bank who spends most of his work hours plotting penny-ante scams. (In an opening scene, he's abusing his own bank's checking promotion, astonishing a branch manager who reluctantly hands over the $50 new-customer bonus when Marty closes his account and immediately opens a fresh one.) He responds poorly when assigned some actual work by his boss -- he's supposed to track down forwarding addresses for a stack of checks that have come back in the mail -- but soon takes interest in the chore, realizing he can forge endorsements and deposit the checks in his own account. Naive about how this process works, he's frightened to learn that his boss will soon see the evidence of his crime. He stops going to work and flees his apartment, going underground as if he were being pursued by a team of federal agents.

Inviting himself to stay with nerdy, skittish coworker Derek (played by the director), Marty abuses his host's reluctant hospitality. Both men are so arrested in their development that even their pastimes are out of date: Nightmare on Elm Street posters adorn Marty's walls, and the Nintendo console they play in Derek's basement hasn't been state-of-the-art since the '80s -- around the same time Derek's brand of grossed-out homophobia went out of style.

Though the character doesn't see the need to think through a justification for his crimes, his inchoate anticapitalist sensibility is offended when someone swindles him out of a few bucks. He loses his temper and goes on the run while the film foreshadows the possibility that his transgressions will turn violent.

Potrykus doesn't shy away from the character's repulsiveness (witness a long scene in which he gets spaghetti all over himself while eating), but he doesn't really condemn him either. The character, so convincingly embodied by Burge, exists beyond morality, like the carrion-eater that gives the film its title. The main difference between this film's buzzard and the more familiar winged variety is that Marty is feeding on a bloated body -- American capitalism, with its inefficiencies, injustices and blind spots -- that isn't yet dead.

Production Company: Sub Noisse
Cast: Joshua Burge, Joel Potrykus, Teri Ann Nelson, Alan Longstreet, Rico Bruce Wade, Katie Call, Joe Anderson, Chris Kotcher, Michael Cunningham
Director-Screenwriter-Editor: Joel Potrykus
Producers: Michael Saunders, Ashley Young
Executive producers: Joel Potrykus
Director of photography: Adam J. Minnick
Production designer: Barn Hansen
No rating, 97 minutes