Review: ‘Bad Turn Worse’ Is Slickly Directed, Well Acted But Lacks A Good Script

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Bad Turn Worse, the directorial debut of brothers Simon and Zeke Hawkins, is a slickly directed and finely acted genre exercise that is undone by an extremely problematic script. The film (originally and more accurately titled We Gotta Get Out of This Place) seems to be aiming for the grueling yet darkly funny tone of Blood Simple – another Texas-set neo-noir directed by a pair of brothers making their feature-length debut – but it comes off as a rote genre exercise occasionally peppered with grotesque stabs at “grittiness.” Lines like “$50 if you suck this bean eater’s burrito dry” are sadly typical of the way the script consistently mistakes racism and sexism for edginess.

The film opens with a nicely directed, dialogue-less sequence in which BJ (Logan Huffman) steals money from his boss, Giff (Mark Pellegrino). BJ uses the money to fund a wild weekend trip to Corpus Christi intended as a send-off for his friend Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) and girlfriend Sue (Mackenzie Davis) who are heading off to college at the end of the summer. Giff discovers the stolen money and coerces the trio into stealing money from his boss, the shadowy crime boss Big Red. This leads, as one might expect, to a downward-spiraling series of twists and betrayals all heading toward a violent confrontation (which is staged in what looks like the Freddy Krueger dream world).

The plot is thoroughly conventional with no real surprises. Even worse, the characters are essentially incoherent. The film gives no sense of their histories, their interior lives, their relationships. (Why Bobby and Sue hang around with the slightly psychotic BJ remains a mystery.) Sue’s frequently stated desire to leave her small town is a pure abstraction since the film gives no sense of who Sue is or what her town is really like. Throughout, the characters’ actions are dictated strictly by the requirements of the plot and not by any sense of how an 18-year-old kid might behave in these situations. Accordingly, nothing that happens in the film has any real dramatic weight. At one point Bobby and BJ watch a man tortured and killed before their eyes – surely a horrifying experience for a couple of recent high school grads – but there is no sense that they are traumatized, or even particularly rattled, by this experience. Later, Sue is nearly raped. But this agonizing experience has no emotional heft. It is nothing more than genre-appropriate window dressing, superficially “gritty” but with no emotional consequences.

The film does itself no favors by constantly hanging a lampshade on its own narrative limitations. The first conversation in the film namechecks Jim Thompson and paraphrases his line that “there are 33 ways to tell a story but only one plot: things are not as they seem.” Presumably, this is meant to impart a sense of the filmmakers’ self-awareness and knowledge of the genre, but it only serves to underline the film’s phoniness. (It also has the effect of inviting unflattering comparisons to Thompson’s work.) This phoniness might have worked if the Hawkins Brothers had fully embraced it. Instead, the direction, with its languid shots of rural Texas and actor-oriented focus, seems to be aiming at something closer to realism.

The Hawkins Brothers clearly have some talent. They coax some fine performances out of their largely unknown cast; their use of locations gives the film a depth that the script sorely lacks; and they are able to replicate some of the rich, shadowy cinematography of Roger Deakins on a budget. Hopefully in the future they find a screenplay with more emotional honesty, or at least a little more cleverness.

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