Bracingly original, alarming and droll, the righteously ribald “Rid of Me” should prove a breakthrough for helmer James Westby and his producer and leading lady, Katie O’Grady. Pic also offers further evidence of the remarkably innovative indie cinema being produced outside New York and Los Angeles — in this case, Portland, Ore., where the domestic meller and the horror movie have met, wed and proven fruitful. A devoted cult following seems more likely than Pacific Northwest rain, although a reasonable ad budget could mean bigger things.
Reveling in risk, Westby has his central character, Meris (O’Grady), do something so alarmingly disgusting in the flash-forward that opens the film that it’s a wonder the character recovers our sympathies. But she does: As the story proper begins, Meris, newly married to Mitch (John Keyser), is heading back with him to his Oregon hometown. He’s lost his computer company, while she’s dewy-eyed in anticipation of wedded bliss. The move is a step down for Mitch, and Mitch is a step down for Meris: When she makes him eggs benedict for breakfast, he puts ketchup on it. This is not going to end well.
The lighting is creepy, the ambience dreadful, but they don’t hold a candle to Mitch’s old friends, who welcome him warmly back into the fold while treating his new wife like a leper. The physicality of the characters underlines Meris’s outsider status: She’s tiny, they’re intimidating; she’s quiet, they’re loud. But it’s their uncharitable nature that makes them such self-satisfied monsters. No one attempts the slightest gesture to make Meris feel comfortable, and while she initially befriends her new neighbors, the Masuds (Adrienne Vogel, Melik Malkasian), she ends up snubbing them after hearing others suggest the couple might be Al Qaeda.
Matters escalate over the course of a series of dinner parties, until one evening when Meris drinks too much and blurts out something embarrassing Mitch told her not to repeat, and the die is cast. From there, O’Grady makes Meris a figure of pity, horror, revulsion and, to Mitch, profound embarrassment; in one scene at a karaoke bar, she croons a soul-scarring, cringe-inducing song of love and reproach that makes one’s skin crawl. Ultimately, the pic demonstrates, it’s not living well that’s the best revenge; it’s just sticking around.
Westby employs all manner of techniques to keep the audience off guard and engaged, cutting together kinetic musicvid-style romps and freeze-frame tableaux, all held together by a terrific soundtrack that includes songs by Part Time Pony (“Hot Tranny Three Day Messy Weekend”), Laura Gibson and Shelley Short, and Cambodian pop star Ros Sereysothea. Helmer handled shooting and editing duties himself, very effectively.