SXSW FILM 2013
By Linc Leifeste | March 13, 2013
Director: Calvin Reeder
Writer: Calvin Reeder
Starring: Dermot Mulroney, Lindsay Pulsipher, Natasha Lyonne, James Cady, Scott Sharot, Robyn Reede
Director Calvin Reeder has been quick to point out that The Rambler, his second feature film, is not a horror movie. After screening it, I’d say I agree. At least I think I do. While the film definitely contains strong horror elements and is capable at times of both grossing out and creeping out even the most stoic of viewers, this is not a film that is constrained by the traditional conventions of horror films. A southwestern road story with a strong “lone stranger wandering into corrupt town” western element, equal parts absurdity, gore, existentialist drama and romance all filtered through a Lynchian B-movie filter, this film is a mash-up that in the end is completely its own creature.
The film’s opening shots of the titular Rambler (Dermont Mulroney) in prison immediately give the viewer a sense of the character. Sitting stoically, cigarette in mouth, surrounded by the activity of other prisoners, this is a man alone and out of place. He’s soon released into a flat barren southwestern exterior and after a short wait, which includes him noticing weird pinging sounds coming from the sky accompanied by scattered pinpoint flashes of light (a recurring event in the film), he is picked up by his white trash girlfriend (Natasha Lyonne) and given a ride back to his run down trailer home. Judging by the band of depraved cretins hanging out inside, it’s clear that it won’t be long before the Rambler is back in jail if he sticks around. He’s “lucky” enough to have a job waiting for him at a pawn shop but things don’t pan out there long after he gets a taste of the insane owner (Robyn Reede). So he decides to hit the road to his brother’s family ranch in Oregon, where he’s been promised a chance at a decent job in a family setting.
And here begins the rambling that lies at the heart of the film. While the opening segment helps set the mood with its insane caricatures of characters and the Rambler’s stilted stoicism, aviator shades and cowboy hat always in place, the disturbed universe that Reeder has created comes into full light once the Rambler hits the road. Along the way, he hitches a ride with a disturbed “scientist” (James Cady) who has a penchant for transporting mummies in his station wagon as he travels around trying to find willing subjects for his creation, a machine that he claims captures dreams and records them on VHS. All the subject has to do is be strapped in a chair, have the large and menacing machine placed on their head, be dosed with sleeping gas and…you get the idea. He also has recurring run ins with a gorgeous young woman simply named The Girl (Lindsay Pulsipher), who takes a shine to the quiet Rambler. He catches a ride from a cab driver (Scott Sharot) who is obsessed with viewing and discussing the film Frankenstein. And he eventually has the pleasure of meeting the scientist’s deranged daughter, whom he keeps chained to a stake in his front yard, leading to an extended vomiting scene which had me simultaneously squirming, laughing and trying to keep my lunch down.
By successfully drawing the viewer into the insanely disturbed world of the Rambler’s road adventures, by the time we’re in Oregon the viewer winds up feeling, along with the Rambler, that the quietly idyllic family ranch of his brother’s family (blandly polite exchanges, prayer before dinner, the family sitting in silence watching TV) is the truly affected world. Not a film for the faint of heart nor for champions of the conventional, The Rambler is one of the zaniest films I’ve ever seen but it contains enough narrative plot that it can be viewed as a simple story (told from an insane world). But for those viewers who want to dig deeper, it’s clear that underneath all the gore and oddity, Reeder has injected multiple levels of meaning into this unconventional tale.