Trash Fire was the first feature film to screen at the Knoxville Horror Film Fest this past weekend and was among my most anticipated of the line-up. Serving as an excellent way to kick off the event, the third feature from Richard (Ricky) Bates Jr. definitely did not disappoint. In fact, it would go on to win the Audience and the Palm d’Gore (Best Feature Film) Awards. It also won Angela Trimbur; the award for Best Actress at the Fest. You can check out all the winners here if you’re interested.
Bates, best known for 2012’s excellent Excision, has delivered another experience on par with it. While only his second film, Suburban Gothic was not without its charms, Trash Fire is largely a return to form, and in some ways perhaps exceeds the modern classic that put him on the map.
Bates wrote and directed Trash Fire just as he did Excision (He co-wrote Suburban Gothic. I wonder if there’s something to that). It’s certainly well-directed, but what stands out above all else with this one is the writing. Bates has described Trash Fire as a very personal movie in past interviews, and it very much shows in the dialogue, which is darkly hilarious at times, depressing at others, and sometimes downright shocking. It is in this area in particular that I feel Bates really has grown as a filmmaker.
Trash Fire tells the story of Owen (Adrian Grenier) and Isabel (Trimbur), who while struggling to save their strained relationship at a particularly important juncture, pay a visit to Owen’s estranged grandmother Violet (Fionnula Flanagan), who keeps his younger sister Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord) after their parents died in a fire years prior. I don’t want to go too deep into the plot here, but I’ll say Violet makes an evening with Carrie White’s mother sound like a walk in the park.
The movie is very much about relationships; primarily the one between Owen and Isabel, but also the ones between Owen and his sister, and between Violet and both grandchildren. While it’s a much smaller part of the plot, there are some very entertaining scenes dealing with the relationship between Isabel’s brother Caleb (Matthew Gray Gubler) and the two of them. Like Excision, Trash Fire also does its share of church-skewering, though this time around it’s a much bigger part of the story.
While I can’t praise the dialogue of this movie enough, dialogue is really only as good as its delivery, and this cast knocks it out of the park. Grenier is particularly strong as the lead, and as previously mentioned, Trimbur’s performance earned her an award. The supporting cast all do a fine job as well.
The fact that Trash Fire does rely so heavily on dialogue could turn off certain types of viewers, but these are very well developed characters who are also incredibly entertaining, even while some of them are saying and/or doing vile things.
Trash Fire is both funny and harrowing, which is a difficult combination to pull off, and this does it as well as anything in recent memory.