Review: I Blame Society

Director: Gillian Wallace Horvat

Stars: Gillian Wallace Horvat, Alexia Rasmussen, Keith Poulson

To what extent is human collateral damage acceptable in the movie business and how seriously is Hollywood really taking the call for reform?

Gillian Wallace Horvat’s spiky showcase takes aim at both of these meaty questions, suggesting plenty of room for improvement. Casting herself as a filmmaking serial killer, she takes recent examples of casual mistreatment to extremes in her knowing, darkly funny shoestring feature. Her heightened on-screen self, Gillian, is a hopeful and driven wannabe filmmaker, who turns to murder to give her prospective project extra spice.

In the sun-bleached suburbs of LA’s Highland Park, Gillian lives with her depressive boyfriend Keith (Keith Poulson), an editor with his own plans for an “elevated sci-fi David Lynch graphic novel”. Having had her Israeli-based script rejected for being too political and having an ‘unlikable’ female lead (herself, one assumes), Gillian latches onto an unpopular idea born of a backhanded compliment; that she might make a great murderer. I Blame Society evolves from mumblecore mockumentary to a deranged found footage horror picture, one that only seems to accelerate.

Before it gets to an inevitable and irreverent montage of murder, I Blame Society takes enjoyable potshots at how Hollywood has leapt on inclusivity as the latest band wagon, making progressive steps toward a fairer system appear closer to opportunist exploitation.

Gillian meets with a pair of budding young producers who insist that they’re eager to work with “someone like” her. The conversation is loaded with unspoken references to Horvat’s gender and ethnicity. The guys are eager to collaborate with her as an “ally”, but when she probes for their exact meaning they fumble. Horvat exposes a newly forming world of uncouth tokenism.

Armed with a selfie-stick and forehead cam, Gillian becomes the totem for a culture of incessant self-documentation. It’s almost as if she’s turned herself into a cell phone. With success hard to attain, her protagonist descends into sociopathic narcissism. Before long, her ‘hypothetical’ documentary turns into a caught-on-camera murder spree, suggestive of an industry in which the ends justify any means, even the total destruction of the players in the peripheries. Snuff is okay… so long as it sells…

Horvat has no qualms about recasting herself as an exaggerated, hideous human being; voyeuristic, exploitative, callous and vindictive. Her Gillian is a product of… well, you guessed it. I Blame Society reflects unflatteringly on a culture in which young people are encouraged to perceive themselves as narrative figures living out their own little fictions (think how social media asks us for our ‘stories’), each and every one dealing with an inevitable trauma as origin story. It’s makes for an ecosystem in which everyone is obsessed with being liked. Gillian’s entire quest is born out of resentment toward a woman who bullied her in school; something she now uses to define herself and her intended victim. A zero sum that becomes a flimsy excuse for her real ambition – to become a homicidal maniac.

By its very nature, I Blame Society is a rough hewn, lo-fi experience, digital and handheld, saturated with the glare of the Los Angeles sunshine. Horvat’s mode of presentation is distinctive, but the movie does have its precedents. In its mingling of sex and death and the warping of the notion of performance, her film calls to mind the sardonic fury of Larry Cohen’s Special Effects nearly 40 years ago.

Still, this is also intended, it seems, as a calling-card for its creator, and on that score it’s a triumphant home-run and the approach feels thrillingly original in spite of the above. Horvat’s been in the business working prolifically for a while now. She’s funny, she’s talented. This may be her first full length directorial effort, but it should enable her to springboard to bigger platforms. Should she want to.

As it is, I Blame Society has a pleasing gutter energy that Horvat could mine further, creating her own little grassroots revival of the kind of puckish indies we saw cropping up in the ’90s from the likes of Gregg Araki and co; rejecting the very system that continues to fail so many who dare to dream big, but who also aren’t taking any shit anymore.

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