Monday 19 April 2021

I Blame Society (USA 2020: Dir Gillian Wallace Horvat)

"I guess the best way to make life like a movie is to film it." So states Gillian Wallace Horvat, playing a version of herself in this arch life-imitates-art-imitates-life feature debut mockumentary. 'Gillian' (Horvat) is a struggling filmmaker, finding out the hard way that the movie business is still largely a man's world; an extended scene featuring her in the office of two douchebag producers who want to make films about womens' experiences but have already written the scripts clearly demonstrates what she's up against.

And then men closer to her in life aren't any great shakes either: her obnoxious film editor boyfriend Keith (Keith Poulson) who is, shall we say, less than supportive of her ambitions and calls her "my little psychopath"; and her slightly better but still wishy washy friend Chase (Chase Williamson) whose girlfriend she thinks is so obnoxious that she'd like to kill her, a confession that causes a rift between the two of them.

And it's this thought that crystallises into the revival of a planned but unfulfilled project that she feels can be realised without male interference. Called the 'I, Murderer' project, it casts Gillian in the central role of initially idealised, later actual killer and documenter, and her first victim is Chase, although his death is much less pre-meditated than later victims. Gillian warms to her subject matter, staging deaths and writing often hilarious 'goodbye' notes in the style she thinks her victims would use. As the police start to see a connection between the deaths, although mistakenly ascribing them to a male killer, Gillian finds her personal and stylistic feet. "What are you?" she is asked. "I'm a strong female lead," she replies.

The layers which operate here are a dizzying mesh of truth and fiction. Horvat, whose background is in oftern idiosyncratic short films, has a career which echoes Gillian's, and it's pretty clear that the director's experiences in a male dominated industry have driven her story. I Blame Society is as darkly funny as you like (starting with its very knowing title), and while on occasion scenes layer meta-ness and cineaste tendencies which almost threaten to strangle the narrative (a description of Gillian as like a "weird Frances Ha" is pretty spot on), the second half is a wild and sometimes pretty shocking ride.

This year's rather more lavish Promising Young Woman offers a sort of higher class counterpoint to this movie; Gillian is the more awkward younger sister of that movie's Cassandra character and, like Cassandra, uses sex to achieve her aims, but very much on her terms. But Horvat's film is a more raw, urgent and up close and personal experience, and she pulls off the difficult act of having a pretty unlikeable central character who you end up rooting for all the way.

I Blame Society will be released by Blue Finch Film Releasing on Digital Download from 19 April.

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