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SXSW Film Review: ‘Buzzard’

The third film in Joel Potrykus' animal trilogy proves as fascinating as it is off-putting.

With:

Joshua Burge, Joel Potrykus, Teri Ann Nelson, Katie Call, Joe Anderson, Scott Baisden.

Flaunting its bargain-basement budget for maximum grunge and weirdness, Joel Potrykus’ “Buzzard” stars his regular collaborator, the inimitable Joshua Burge, this time as a disaffected temp — an angry member of the 99% bent on scamming corporations for his subsistence. Not fueled by political consciousness or, indeed, any form of consciousness, his actions are motivated by an anarchic energy that aggressively refuses to transition from videogames, heavy metal and self-indulgent adolescence to underpaid, wage-slave maturity. Giving not an inch to any sort of readable moral paradigm, this third installment in Potrykus’ Grand Rapids-set animal trilogy (including his 2010 short “Coyote” and his 2012 feature “Ape”) proves as fascinating as it is off-putting. Oscilloscope Laboratories adventurously snapped up distrib rights before the film’s SXSW premiere.

Marty (Burge), who “works” as a temp at a bank, slouches in his cubicle and orchestrates his everyday, run-of-the-mill scams — ordering expensive office supplies through the bank and returning them for cash, claiming irregularities with every product he uses and thereby receiving coupons or replacements. When given a bunch of small, undeliverable checks and asked to find the clients’ new addresses, he successfully signs some of them over to himself and confidently cashes them — only to discover that the bank routinely keeps track, at which point paranoia takes over.

He holes up in the basement of friend/co-worker Derek (helmer Potrykus), where the two typically engage in nerdy roughhousing and swap childish insults. Marty proudly shows off his personal creation, a Nintendo glove with Freddy Krueger finger blades. If Marty proves by far more hurtful in word and deed, Derek registers as more pathetically nebbishy, locked into an infantile buddyism but fearful of anything even vaguely homoerotic. Marty then heads for Detroit, cashing third-person checks along the way, his irrationality and total lack of forethought leading him deeper into trouble.

In “Coyote,” Burge played a nervous junkie werewolf howling at the sun; in Locarno prizewinner “Ape,” he played a terrible standup comedian/pyromaniac who makes a deal with the devil without ever getting much to show for it. Here, Burge’s character — interacting with various low-level workers who, to his dismay and incomprehension, empathize more with their employers’ concerns than with his — vacillates between panicky feelings of persecution and elated moments of total freedom as he runs along the street, the camera barely able to keep pace with his mad acceleration.

The film neither defends nor condemns its hero — who, in his anger and failure to relate to the world except through comicbooks and horror movies, comes off as almost completely impossible to identify with (unlike other cinematic deadbeat nerds like Napoleon Dynamite or the understandably alienated cubicle mates of “Office Space”). On the other hand, his ability to live entirely for the moment can be mesmerizing: Blowing all his check-cashing money on a luxury hotel, he spends his last 20 bucks on a plate of room-service spaghetti. To watch a grinning Marty unself-consciously devouring the pasta in real time, spilling strands all over his chest, is to see the id in all its untrammeled glory.

Popular on Variety

SXSW Film Review: 'Buzzard'

Reviewed at New Directors/New Films, Walter Reade Theater, New York, March 6, 2014. (Also in SXSW Film Festival — Visions.) Running time: 97 MIN.

Production:

An Oscilloscope Laboratories release of a Sob Noisse Movies production. Produced by Michael Sanders, Ashley Young.  Executive producer, J.T. Potrykus. Co-executive producers, Kevin Clancy, Buck Saunders, Judy Saunders, Graham Kelly, Sarah Ann Kelly, Andrew Christopoulos, Pete Brinsma, Liz Brinsma.

Crew:

Directed, written, edited by Joel Potrykus. Camera (color, HD), Adam J. Minnick; sound, Kevin Clancy, Peter Fox, associate producers, Clancy, Tim Saunders.

With:

Joshua Burge, Joel Potrykus, Teri Ann Nelson, Katie Call, Joe Anderson, Scott Baisden.

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