By Don Simpson | September 3, 2011
Writer: Dustin Guy Defa
Starring: Kentucker Audley, Eleonore Hendricks, Allison Baar, Duane Stephens, Annette Wright, Hayward Buchanan, Dustin Guy Defa
As discomforting a character as the silver screen has bore witness to recently, Eddie (Kentucker Audley) mumbles to himself and fidgets with his hair as he feebly attempts to muster up enough self-confidence to find a new girlfriend and score a Friday night gig at a local comedy club. Unfortunately, Eddie possesses no social graces and his punchline-less humor is — well, to put it bluntly — humorless. All in all, Eddie’s pursuit of [what he perceives as] happiness is an accident waiting to happen.
Eddie drifts around Salt Lake City by foot and by car like a stalker too frightened to actually stalk anyone. He befriends a young homeless woman, Irene (Eleonore Hendricks), who lives in an abandoned school building and earns cash by shooting VHS movies of herself — but not in a sexual way. Irene’s motives for befriending Eddie company are questionable at best, and their relationship grows increasing uncomfortable especially whenever Irene’s camera is rolling. All the while, Eddie’s mother (Annette Wright) stays at home, popping pills and inexplicably requiring Eddie to take care of her.
There is no doubt that Eddie is destined to be perpetually lonely due to his inability to relate to other human beings. The handful of people Eddie does have interactions with only seem able to manipulate and overpower him. Yoko (Allison Baar) might just be the exception to that rule; but considering that there is a monetary incentive involved, whether or not her connection with Eddie is authentic is left totally up in the air. You will have to come to your own conclusions on that…
The intricate mood that writer-director Dustin Guy Defa is able to develop during the 77 minute-long Bad Fever is intoxicating. Defa’s timid approach to his characters — and the narrative as a whole — forces the audience to observe the world from Eddie’s perspective. Just as Eddie moves around with his head hanging down, thus prompting his long shaggy hair to shroud his face, the camera seems scared — especially early on in the film — to look any of the film’s characters in the eyes. Bad Fever begins with a few fleeting glimpses of Eddie and Irene, but some time must pass before we can really get a visual grasp on who these characters are, as if we need to acclimate to them first.
The surrounding environment is cold, ugly and colorless making Eddie’s practically Sisyphean existence seem even more strenuous and uneasy. You might say that the unaccommodating nature of the world plays a major factor in isolating him. Eddie’s Salt Lake City certainly is not a happy or comforting place, but it does give the film a timeless air. The wardrobe, props, and production design all point to a couple decades ago, yet the precise time period is never mentioned. In a way, the design of Bad Fever adds to our sense of Eddie’s dislocation; as if he is stuck in the past, and the rift between Eddie and the modern world is growing significantly larger every moment.
What truly makes Bad Fever special is Kentucker Audley’s performance as Eddie. Audley carefully flirts with adjectives such as creepy and deranged, yet he always seems deserving of our sympathy and affection; occasionally he hints of a slight mental handicap, but refrains from using such a “burden” to tug at our heartstrings. Imagine a toned-down mash-up of Crispin Glover and Jason Schwartzman with bumbling speech patterns and various ticks and idiosyncrasies, that is Eddie. It often becomes difficult to comprehend that this is an actor portraying a character. There is never any doubt about it — Audley is Eddie. The result is mind-blowing. Amazingly enough, Eleonore Hendricks matches Audley’s thespian skills beat for beat and watching Hendricks and Audley play off of each other is reason enough to watch Bad Fever. That is unless you do not like uncomfortable films — which Bad Fever certainly is.