Tag Archives: John Swab

Campaign Promises

Little Dixie

by George Wolf

By now, we’ve moved past the “it’s nice to see longtime supporting player Frank Grillo in the lead” phase, haven’t we? He’s established himself as a charismatic actor more than capable of carrying a film.

And while he’s still a reliably galvanizing presence in Little Dixie, the movie itself struggles to carve out its own identity as it vacillates between a generic crime narrative and some seedy sexual underbellies.

Grillo stars as Doc, a no-nonsense intermediary between Texas Gov. Richard Jeffs (Eric Dane) and a ruthless Mexican cartel run by Lalo Prado (Maurice Compte). But when the Gov. goes rogue and ignores the truce that Doc has brokered, Lalo’s bloodthirsty brother Cuco (Beau Knapp) crosses the border looking for payback – and his search starts with Doc’s daughter (Sofia Bryant).

So yes, expect plenty of “If you touch her I swear to God I’ll….,” but also writer/director John Swab’s penchant for hard turns.

This time Swab goes searching for subversion inside a Sicario-like setup, an approach similar to how he attacked truck stop horror in the recent Candy Land. But while that film managed to uncover something surprisingly human amid all the brutality, the persistent posturing and lurid details in Little Dixie do little to raise the resonance of characters or choices – and in at least one instance end up bordering on blood-soaked parody.

But the attempt to firebomb expectations almost works, more evidence that Swab may just need a little more seasoning to find his uniquely compelling voice. Until then, Little Dixie stands as a cluster of eyebrow-raising campaign promises drowned out by a standard stump speech.

Keep On Truckin’

Candy Land

by Hope Madden

Candy Land is a surprise, and it’s not for everyone. This is grim stuff, but writer/director John Swab’s truck stop horror also delivers an unusual story hiding inside some same old, same old.

Remy (Olivia Luccardi) catches the eye of Sadie (Sam Quartin), one of the “lot lizards” selling their carnal wares at a bible belt truck stop. Remy’s part of a religious group here to help Sadie, Riley (Eden Brolin), Liv (Virginia Rand) and Levi (Owen Campbell) find salvation. Instead, Remy – cast out from the cult – finds Sadie, eventually deciding to learn the trade in exchange for a place to live.

Hard-right evangelicals rarely make a positive impression in a horror movie, and sex workers tend to become either heart-tugging martyrs or naked corpses (often both). To his credit, Swab has something else in mind, and while you would not call it pleasant, it’s almost refreshing.

Candy Land avoids preachiness, finding depth and humanity without condescension, both for the evangelicals and the lot lizards. There’s a sense of camaraderie among those on the job, and the naturalistic, terribly human performances sell that.

Campbell (X, My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To), in particular, shines with a turn so full of tenderness, playfulness and optimism that you hold your breath every time he’s onscreen- lest something awful happens to him.

It does. In fact, at the risk of spoiling anything but in favor of helping viewers avoid triggers, Campbell’s Levi is subjected to an especially brutal and troubling rape sequence that’s part and parcel of a film loaded with graphic sexuality and violence, often side by side. But never once is the victimization filmed to titillate, if that helps.

For its many successes, the film often feels like a rather superficial exercise in brutality if only because none of the characters have real arcs. Things end for each character essentially where they began. A provocative but undercooked B-story involving a perversely paternal police officer (William Baldwin, with his most interesting performance in years) doesn’t help.

Candy Land is a tough film to recommend for a number of reasons, but it’s worthwhile viewing if only because Swab upends every expectation, instead taking us inside a horror grounded in something surprisingly human.