'The Greasy Strangler': Sundance Review

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
A movie that begs you to hate it but doesn't merit that much psychic energy.

A lard-covered maniac is killing people, for some reason.

If you listen with half an ear to the Sundance buzz about Swiss Army Man, you might easily miss the admiring comments about wacko inventiveness and think it offers nothing but a farting corpse. Similarly, those who overhear talk about Jim Hosking's The Greasy Strangler might perk their ears at the gross-out bullet points — the gallons of congealing, indeterminate-origin fats; the cartoonish gore; the big and tiny prosthetic penises — and miss the bottom line: That in addition to being repulsive it's a witless bore, and most of those copious audience-member walkouts probably represented not weak-stomached wusses but individuals with something better to do. Any habitué of Midnight programs eventually finds himself riding happily on the wavelength of a movie this stupid, and a distributor may well find enough Tim and Eric-raised viewers who respond to its half-assed surrealism — make that full-assed, given the attention paid to the withered rump of septuagenarian star Michael St. Michaels — to make the effort pay. But even among those who dig it, how many will be obeying a subconscious obligation to the outré ("I would totally have discovered Pink Flamingos first, if I'd been alive then!") without really enjoying it?

Leading a cast and crew full of names that look like pseudonyms (Gil Gex, Toby Harvard, Tim League), Sky Elobar plays Brayden, a middle-aged loser who still lives with father Big Ronnie (St. Michaels), earning his keep by cooking meals Dad constantly insists don't have enough grease slopped on them. The two have a business leading bogus walking tours for disco fans, and on one of these Brayden meets Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo), who inexplicably finds him cute. (Tubby, ugly Brayden speaks as if he were Napoleon Dynamite 30 years and 100 pounds later, having been beaten up by the world.)

Indignant that his virginal son is getting some action, oversexed Ronnie channels his anger into late-night slayings. He slathers his naked body with animal fats and slops out onto the street, killing strangers and sometimes eating their eyeballs for fun; afterward, he cleans up in a drive-through car wash.

When they're not turning our attention to globules of leftover grease on the floor or to foodstuffs slathered in sloppy lard, Hosking and co-writer Harvard work on their dialogue-writing chops. A typical argument goes like this: Ronnie says something Brayden doesn't like; Brayden calls him a "bullshit artist"; Ronnie hurls the same epithet back at him; and they bounce the same slur back and forth until the editor cuts the scene, fearing he'll never be hired again if he lets it go one second longer.

Nobody who goes to see a movie called The Greasy Strangler can object to contrived offensiveness or endurance-test sequences. But Hosking's film has no momentum. Its scenes just plop out one after another, sitting there needily until they're replaced by the next. "Look at me," they blurt, "I'm so weird and gross." Well, weird and gross is easy. Weird and gross and funny is hard.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Midnight)
Production companies: Rook Films and Timpson Films Production
Cast: Michael St. Michaels, Sky Elobar, Elizabeth De Razzo, Gil Gex, Jesse Keen, Joe David Walters
Director: Jim Hosking
Screenwriters: Jim Hosking, Toby Harvard
Producers: Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, Elijah Wood, Andrew Starke, Ant Timpson
Executive producers: Tim League, Ben Wheatley, Theo Brooks
Director of photography: Marten Tedin
Production designer: Jason Kisvarday
Costume designer: Christina Blackaller
Editor: Mark Burnett
Composer: Andrew Hung
Casting directors: Danielle Aufiero, Amber Horn   
Sales: CAA

Not rated, 93 minutes