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SXSW Film Review: ‘Fort Tilden’

Two vapid twentysomethings go on an ill-fated odyssey through "deep Brooklyn" in this occasionally sharp, mostly tiresome effort.

With:

Bridey Elliott, Clare McNulty, Peter Vack, Griffin Newman, Jeffrey Scaperotta, Neil Casey, Alysia Reiner, Will Hines.

Fort Tilden,” Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ day-in-the-life chronicle of two vapid twentysomethings on an ill-fated odyssey through “deep Brooklyn,” contains several scenes that manage to skewer the infantile predilections of the Williamsburg jet set with truly ruthless, subtle precision. Unfortunately, it fails to find much humor in them, and its potent sense of place and underlying ideas never compensate for the tiresome millennial musings that constitute most of its runtime. Future festival play seems likely, though the film may well alienate more audiences than it seduces.

Although it has already drawn numerous pre-screening comparisons to a certain HBO program featuring wry Brooklyn hipsters of the same age and gender, “Fort Tilden” takes a far dimmer view of its subjects, and clearly derives its plot structure from Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours,” as 25-year-old roommates Allie (Clare McNulty) and Harper (Bridey Elliott) are perpetually waylaid while trying to make it to a date across town.

Dual inhabitants of a sort of Barbie Dream Loft, the hip-chained Allie and Harper are preparing to sever ties thanks to Allie’s imminent departure for Liberia with the Peace Corps, while Harper, a “mixed-medias” artist with no apparent talent for or interest in her craft, seems content to live off the largesse of her Indian businessman father. The pair run across two guys (Jeffrey Scaperotta, Griffin Newman) at a rooftop party, and agree to meet them for some drug-fueled R&R in the Rockaways the next day, even if it means Allie has to cancel an important appointment with her Peace Corps advisor.

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The next morning, after endless delays, the girls finally set off on borrowed fixed-gear bikes into a loose string of episodic incidents. Amidst volleys of shit-talking and complaining — “I don’t believe her personality choice,” goes a representative putdown — the girls promptly get lost, go shopping at a discount warehouse, get stranded in “the ghetto,” lose their bikes, score some molly, buy a $200 barrel, and end up on a $100 unlicensed cab ride, all while texting prodigiously.

“Fort Tilden” makes no secret of these characters’ shallowness — indeed, Allie’s chances of surviving war-torn Liberia when she can hardly manage Bushwick form one of the better running jokes — but their repartee is far less witty than the film seems to think it is, and these two generate ever escalating levels of annoyance that never quite cohere into satire.

Once they reach the shore, however, things take a more interesting turn, as the girls’ simmering resentments finally explode, and the filmmakers finally bare their claws. (In particular, a one-off scene involving a group of abandoned kittens turns into a rather stark metaphor for the disastrous consequences of their seemingly harmless, heedless blundering through life.) Were the previous 70 minutes anywhere near as incisive, the pic might have managed to draw real blood, and it will be interesting to see if Bliss and Rogers can refine and strengthen the more Juvenalian aspects of their filmmaking the next time out.

Though the characters leave something to be desired, both leads have a great deal of chemistry — at their best, Allie and Harper manage to suggest a sort of sociopathic Romy and Michele — and the actresses embrace their more loathsome qualities with an admirable lack of vanity. (One scene even manages to challenge “Before Midnight” for the title of longest sustained unerotic topless scene.) Well photographed and edited, the film looks quite good for its budget, and manages to dig into all sorts of underexplored corners of the city.

SXSW Film Review: 'Fort Tilden'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (competing), March 9, 2014. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production:

Produced by Mollye Asher, Geoff Mansfield. 

Crew:

Directed and written by Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers. Camera (color), Brian Lannin; editor, Bliss; music supervisor, Chloe Raynes; production designer, Katrina Whalen; sound, David Forshee; assistant director, Ingrid Jungermann; casting, Allison Twardziak.

With:

Bridey Elliott, Clare McNulty, Peter Vack, Griffin Newman, Jeffrey Scaperotta, Neil Casey, Alysia Reiner, Will Hines.

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