The blowback from America's war on terror hits a group of young people, full of unexamined racism and with a lot of free time on their hands, in the highly disturbing if overwritten "Anytown."

With: Matt O'Leary, Marshall Allman, Jonathan Halyalkar, Sam Murphy, Ross Britz, Meghan Stansfield, Brooke Johnson, Sam Blan, Juan Soto, Chase Allen, Brendan Aguillard, Dan Wells, Paul Ben-Victor, Natasha Henstridge.

The blowback from America’s war on terror hits a group of young people, full of unexamined racism and with a lot of free time on their hands, in the highly disturbing if overwritten “Anytown.” Repping a major improvement for director/co-writer Dave Rodriguez on his previous project, 2006’s “Push,” the new drama tightens the screws and generates some wrenching tension, some of it apparently influenced by the more grueling films of Michael Haneke. If the message is all too obvious, the aftereffect is enough to make this a strong indie title for theatrical and vid sales at home and abroad.

The film’s prelude coolly and precisely observes two teens watching an Al Qaeda-style execution video on a home computer, leading to a meeting between small-town high school Principal Wheeler (Paul Ben-Victor) and senior student Brandon (Matt O’Leary). Although Brandon is ready to sign up for the Marines after graduation (with hopes of following his older brother to Iraq), Wheeler gives him a one-day suspension for electronically distributing the execution video.

Bad move, it turns out. With loads of time to kill, Brandon invites his pals Mike (Marshall Allman), Bo (Sam Murphy) and Kyle (Ross Britz) over to celebrate his upcoming departure. The first of a series of extended group scenes, played with considerable naturalism and sounding at least partly improvised, is like a study in how peer pressure works: Mike, the only one in the group who’s college-bound, gradually gives in to the temptation to drink, smoke and fool around.

The template is thus set for what develops into a contemporary political horror movie. Rodriguez and co-writer Zak Meyers don’t immediately announce their dramatic intentions: When the guys pick up Kyle’s g.f. Charlotte (Meghan Stansfield) and her pal Michelle (Brooke Johnson) to have some fun at an empty house, the pic is suffused with the feeling of what it’s like to be young in a small town, with nothing to do but screw around, talk big and raise some hell.

When the real hell starts happening, “Anytown” reveals both its strengths and its weaknesses. Brandon finds a target for his anti-Arab, anti-Muslim biases, and Mike, a good student and the only one of the group who’s bound for college, is frozen in the headlights of Brandon’s mounting violence and angry threats. While these tensions grip like a vise, the bigoted, redneck-style speeches uttered by Brandon and echoed by Kyle and Bo become too obvious for the film to dramatically sustain.

This is particularly problematic because Rodriguez has taken pains to create as generally realistic a setting as possible, especially in his choice in the film’s latter half to stage whole scenes in unedited master shots, often at a remove from the characters. This, plus the use of vid cameras, will remind watchful viewers of Haneke’s cinema.

The young cast is remarkable, their general anonymity and talent combining to ramp up the film’s terrors. Allman’s portrait of a weakening soul incapable of facing up to friends gone bad is especially impressive.

Epilogue clip featuring Natasha Henstridge as a TV reporter nearly negates everything that precedes it, and auds are advised to dash for the exits, or click the stop button, when the real story fades out. Production departments, along with location lensing in Louisiana by John Barr, are first-rate on a limited budget.


Production: A K/2 Pictures/Dirty District Entertainment/13 Steps Entertainment presentation. Produced by George M. Kostuch, Matt Keith, Dave Rodriguez. Executive producers, Brock Davis, Bryan Messina, George Kostuch Jr., Zak Meyers, Shaun Redick. Co-executive producers, Jarred Coates, Ron Finberg, Paul McMenamin. Directed by Dave Rodriguez. Screenplay, Zak Meyers, Rodriguez.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), John Barr; editor, Lauren A. Schaffer; music, Phil Symonds; production designer, Jeremy Woolsey; art director, Andrew W. Bofinger; costume designer, Dane Carmouche; sound (Dolby Digital), Rachel Grissom, Steve Weiss; supervising sound editors, James Lay, Nathan Smith; re-recording mixers, Smith, Lay; stunt coordinator, Phil O'Dell; line producer, Beth Payton Beard; associate producers, Michael Thompson, Jason Thibeau; casting, Nicole Abellera, Leslie Woo. Reviewed on DVD, April 10, 2009. (In Method Fest, Los Angeles.) Running time: 85 MIN.

With: With: Matt O'Leary, Marshall Allman, Jonathan Halyalkar, Sam Murphy, Ross Britz, Meghan Stansfield, Brooke Johnson, Sam Blan, Juan Soto, Chase Allen, Brendan Aguillard, Dan Wells, Paul Ben-Victor, Natasha Henstridge.

More Film

  • MPAA Logo

    Motion Picture Association of America Hires Emily Lenzner as Communications Chief

    The Motion Picture Association of America has appointed veteran public relations executive Emily Lenzner as its executive VP of global communications and public affairs. She will report to Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin and oversee the trade group’s communications team in the U.S. and internationally. Lenzner will start Aug. 1 and be based at the MPAA’s [...]

  • See Taylor Swift Unveil Feline Moves

    See Taylor Swift Unveil Feline Moves for First Time in 'Cats' Behind-the-Scenes Teaser

    Taylor Swift fans finally get to see some of the results of all those years spent studying her roommates Meredith and Olivia — and also, not incidentally, some time with a choreographer — in a new behind-the-scenes teaser for the movie “Cats.” The three-and-a-half-minute featurette has footage of Swift striking crouching feline moves as well [...]

  • Empty movie theater

    Immersive Theater Technology Set for US Debut in Los Angeles

    French multiplex company CGR Cinemas has selected the Regal LA Live as the first U.S. theater to use its Immersive Cinema Experience technology. The ICE format will be unveiled in the fall at the downtown location in a partnership between CGR and AEG. The companies made the announcement Wednesday but did not reveal which title [...]

  • Amazon Developing Original Series Based on

    Amazon Studios Buys 'Selah and the Spades,' Will Develop Original Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Amazon Studios has acquired worldwide rights to “Selah and the Spades,” a gripping look at a prep school drug dealer, Variety has learned. The film marks the feature debut of writer and director Tayarisha Poe and had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it was a favorite with critics. Amazon has [...]

  • The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con

    The Ultimate Guide to 2019 Comic-Con Parties and Activations

    Hollywood is heading down the California coast to San Diego because It’s time for 2019 Comic-Con International. The annual cosplay celebration officially kicks off tomorrow, July 18, with a preview happening tonight. Here, Variety gives you a guide to this year’s parties and activations. Make sure to check back for updates. Wednesday, July 17Amazon Prime [...]

  • The Wound African Cinema Berlin Film

    Finance Forum Brings African WIP Into Focus at Durban FilmMart

    The 10th edition of the Durban FilmMart, which unspools parallel to the 40th Durban Intl. Film Festival, will feature 10 fiction and 10 documentary works-in-progress taking part in its annual Finance Forum. The leading co-production market on the continent, the Forum brings together producers, distributors, sales agents, broadcasters, funding bodies, and other industry players from across the [...]

  • The Lion King

    'The Lion King' Looks to Roar Life Into Domestic Box Office

    Hollywood just can’t wait for “The Lion King” to hit theaters. That’s because Disney’s highly anticipated remake is expected to draw herds of moviegoers at a time when ticket sales are seriously struggling. Box office watchers predict that the studio’s grand return to the Pride Lands could become one of this year’s biggest hits. “The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content