Tag Archives: Michael Abbott jr.

Sheep Go to Heaven, Goats Go to Hell

The Dark and the Wicked

by Hope Madden

I’ve been a Bryan Bertino fan since The Strangers because of course I have. How could I not be? That loyalty paid off in 2016 with the moving allegorical horror The Monster, and it rewards viewers again this weekend with the supernatural terror of The Dark and the Wicked.

A twisty old Southern Gothic that relies on practical effects and imagination, the film arrives somewhere in deeply rural America with Louise (a terrific Marin Ireland). She’s about a day behind her brother Michael (Michael Abbott Jr., The Death of Dick Long), back at home because of Dad’s deteriorating health.

Mom (Lynn Andrews) does not want them here.

Bertino is not a filmmaker to let his audience off the hook—if you’ve seen The Strangers, you know that. Like that effort, TD&TW is a slow burn with nerves fraying inside the isolated farmhouse as noises, shadows, and menacing figures lurk outside.

Bertino and cinematographer Tom Schraeder work the darkness in and around the goat farm to create a lingering, roaming dread. There are clumsier moments that feel like pre-ordained audience scares, and they really stand out in a film that otherwise just seeps into your subconscious. But where Bertino, who also writes, scores extra points is in crafting believable characters.

Too often in horror you find wildly dramatic behavior in the face of the supernatural. One character adamantly denies and defies what is clearly happening while another desperately tries to communicate with “it.” No one would do either, but this is the best way to serve the needed action to come in lesser films.

Here, Bertino, Ireland and Abbott give us real characters honestly grappling with something extraordinary.

The don’t want to be here. They don’t want to leave. So, they just do what they can, like the rugged folks they are.

“Well, if I’m here, I’m gonna work.”

Like Natalie James’s Relic from earlier this year, TD&TW has the long, slow, debilitating experience of parental illness on its mind. Like that film, this movie has a deeply aching center that makes the horror in the house as tragic as it is scary, and more horrifyingly, somehow inevitable.

Hillbilly Elegy

The Death of Dick Long

by Hope Madden

Director Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man) walks an amazing tight rope between hillbilly stereotype and sympathetic character study with his latest, The Death of Dick Long, a crass comedy with deeply human sensibilities.

Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.), Earl (Andre Hyland) and Dick (Scheinert) work on some Nickelback covers for their band, Pink Freud. Band practice out at Zeke’s ends late, long after Zeke’s misses (Virginia Newcomb, excellent) and their daughter (Poppy Cunningham, also excellent) head off to bed.

The fellas get a little weird, things get out of hand and let’s just say Pink Freud won’t be touring.

Yes, we have all witnessed films situated within the world of dive bar cocktail waitresses and their paramours. Tailer parks, mullets, giant prints of tigers, they’re all here. But what makes Dick Long kind of miraculous is how generous Scheinert, writer Billy Chew and the whole cast are with these characters.

Really, generous to a degree unseen in a comedy of this sort—which is to say, the sort of comedy built entirely on the idiocy of its white trash characters.

As Scheinert slowly unearths the details of the mystery, a lesser filmmaker might wallow in inbred, backwoods, banjo pickin’ gags. Not this guy. The more unseemly the subject matter, the more bare the soul. Abbott’s inevitable vulnerability is almost alarmingly heart wrenching given the comedic tone of the film and the actual crime committed.

Likewise, Newcomb mines her character and this situation for something honest enough that you wonder what the hell you would do if you were to find yourself in this situation. Her performance has the texture of a long and comfortable relationship suddenly and irreparably busted.

Hyland’s Earl, on the other hand, is straight up hill jack comic gold, but even this performance sidesteps broad strokes and finds a recognizable, human soul.

There’s not a single performance in the film that isn’t a welcome surprise. And underneath it all, Dick Long reimagines small town masculinity, isolation and loneliness.

Daniel Scheinert follows up on the promise of the crowd favorite madness of Swiss Army Man with a crime caper of a wildly, weirdly different sort. I’m all for his brand of lunacy.