A starkly radical film debut of uncommon power and artistic principle, Chris Fuller’s “Loren Cass” announces a genuinely original filmmaking talent who literally pulls no punches in his depiction of teen angst and racial warfare on the streets of 1997 St. Petersburg, Fla. Suffused with pessimism and an overarching sense of the loneliness of modern American life, the pic affirms a vital alternative to the usual adolescent drama, making even Larry Clark look tame by comparison. Sure to be deemed commercially toxic, the pic deserves a brave distrib that knows how to work the angles. Major fest berths are a lock.
A disembodied voice announces, “Back in 1997 … ” and the pic thrusts the viewer into a seemingly humdrum world of suburban homes, empty streets, unfriendly looking gas stations and diners where the working poor serve the working poor. But in the opening shots, writer-editor-director Fuller casts an exacting eye on the strange qualities lurking just below the surface of normality.
Angry skinhead Jason (Travis Maynard) and his buddy, auto repairman Cale (Fuller, under the pseudonym Lewis Brogan), pull a nasty prank on a black driver’s car in the high school parking lot, sparking violent white-vs.-black reprisals — staged with actors clearly pummeling each other onscreen without fakery or stunt maneuvers.
Against this roiling landscape of racism and testosterone, Cale encounters an all-night waitress, Nicole (Kayla Tabish), who brings her car to his shop. Sadly, their date takes place at the same diner where Nicole works. Such small details speak volumes in this meticulously observed film about struggling young people with limited prospects and nowhere in particular to go.
Maynard’s dark, quiet perf as Jason is a superb example of unspoken thoughts revealing deep reservoirs of pain and unfulfillment. Accompanying Jason on the soundtrack is a fascinating set of audio passages from such figures as black activist Omali Yeshitela, articulating a militant approach to battling white domination in St. Petersburg (most unexpected as the inner-thoughts of a young white dude).
Thanks to the sound clips, some shocking video inserts (not only of the local riots but of Pennsylvania pol R. Budd Dwyer’s suicide at a press conference) and a fractured editing style, “Loren Cass” brings some genuinely unsettling cinematic innovation to a slender tale packed with large ideas.
Filmmaking is as tough-minded and uncompromising as narrative cinema gets, with Fuller showing a fascination with the portentous qualities of everyday life — whether it’s a nearly empty parking lot or Nicole’s bedroom, which begins to resemble the creepy upstairs bedroom in Charles Laughton’s “The Night of the Hunter.”
Fuller receives enormous assistance from talented d.p. William Garcia, whose Super 16 images fulfill the suggestion of a line describing St. Petersburg as “a dirty, dirty town by a dirty, dirty sea.” Jimmy Morey’s score furthers the queasy vibe.