Gorno: An American Tragedy
- Straight to Video
- Director: Oliver Assiran, Les Norris
- Written by: Oliver Assiran, Les Norris
- Running Time: 122 minutes
- Language: English
- MPAA Rating: UNRATED
- Cast: Lucas Corcoran, John Foster, Justin Gurazzi, Peter Donald Badalamenti II, Darwin Tademy Jr., Barbrette Roth
Many reviewers have noted how “Gorno: An American Tragedy” feels like a re-tread of the Harmony Korine film "Gummo", with a dash of Larry Clark’s “Kids", but if you look more closely , many other influences seem prevalant throughout, namely, Mary Haron's "American Psycho", Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers" and Richard Linklater’s “Slacker". Each influence, so glaringly obvious, has their place in the film and the writer and director team of Oliver Assiran and Les Norris, clearly children of the cinema, aren’t shying away from it. Like Tarantino or Scorsese before them, Assiran and Norris seem proud to pay homage to the films that influenced them and, ultimately, made them want to become filmmakers.
At first “Gorno: An American Tragedy” feels like an exercise in “storytelling without narrative” – a film that flows seemingly without a recognizable structure or purpose, eventually moving into a final act, and a revelation so surprising and brilliantly crafted that you are forced to re-examine the earlier moments and interactions of the main character in order to see what you’ve been missing. Not to say that there is a structure but, definitely, there is more to it than first thought.
The film opens with a young bushy haired kid riding his bike down a busy city street. His name is Kelly Brady (Lucas Corcoran) and he stares down the camera menacingly, as his voice-over narration declares loudly his sentiment. “Fuck life,” he mutters. “I wanna walk into my school and kill everyone but I don’t have a gun,” he says, adding, “…Not yet.” It is this kid -- this brooding, acne scarred, youngster, whom the camera follows, floating just inches behind his black T-shirt, covered in a “RadioBagdad” insignia, throughout the length of the movie. Kelly is a small time drug dealer, earning money biking house to house on his BMX, selling pot to any and all comers. Embarrassed by his openly gay father, played by Billy Marshall, Kelly opts to avoid going home, often crashing at a friends or breaking into people's homes. We also soon discover that just one year earlier, Kelly’s sister, Susan, was brutally raped, murdered and decapitated during a tragic bush party.
Dredging up past ghosts, two filmmakers, Chuck Norris and Ollie North, played by the film’s actual directors, Oliver Assiran and Les Norris, have arrived in the community in an attempt to delve deeper into the Susan Brady murder for a documentary they are producing. Sitting down with many of the people who were there that night, the film offers a unapologetic portrait of the modern nihilistic American adolescent. None of the people they interview show any remorse, with a few of them even snickering out of embarrassment or boredom. One fellow they interview, Jake The Satanist (Justin Gurazzi), is so indifferent about the whole thing that he finds himself growing bored with the questioning. When asked about who decapitated Susan Brady (Eryn Simpson), he responds in a deadly serious tone, “That was Ron. He really loved her.” He reveals later how the group raped Susan after she had been decapitated, information that disgusts the filmmakers.
As the questioning continues and more characters are introduced (some needlessly), the camera follows Kelly as he moves from house party to street corner to restaurant to the back alley, slinging or doing his drugs, breaking into houses or having sex with a girl using a condom he found in the trash. Every once in awhile the camera elects to move away from Kelly and follow somebody that Kelly has met up with earlier in the day – in one instance, it’s someone he passes in a café and in another, it’s someone for whom Kelly has no interaction with until the film’s final moments. Each person is eccentric and uniformly one-dimensional, giving the viewer at least some sense of the community and social fabric that surrounds Kelly.
Each character (or in the case of a few drug dealers namely Mr. Ohio (John Foster) - caricatures) seems to have a moment, something so over-the-top engaging that you can’t help but be drawn to them including Mike the Butcher (Aaron Sudbury) that accidentally chops off his fingers when he hears how many men his girlfriend has slept with; a kid who believes himself a vampire (Shannon Ross) and for whom buys and drinks real blood and lastly, a youth (Greg Barnes) who is so inebriated that he has sex with an unconscious woman as she hangs out a windowsill at a party. Oh, and did I mention that a serial killer is on the loose and two laughably scripted detectives have begun stalking the local park in an effort to capture the maniac? No, well there’s that too. Take note; the killer seems to be stalking all of the people who attended the bush party that night.
There’s lots of stuff going on in “Gorno” for sure, and after awhile it becomes a test of endurance just to keep up. The film is pieced together in such a way that the viewer is always engaged but almost always confounded, as the events on screen are often gruesome or verbally negative and the significance of each moment is often lost. None of the characters, even in their limited presentation, are likeable. The ugly underbelly of the community, a representation of many lower-income communities in the US, I'm thinking, is on display and Norris and Assiran have no problem exploiting it.
Kelly’s constant first-person narration throughout the film, clearly influenced by Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 Patrick Bateman character, reflects everything from his own self-loathing; “I hate myself,” he says in a mirror, to his distinct hatred for everyone around him – something given great weight as he describes an ugly scene involving a pedophile teacher in his grade school as well as his next door neighbor, a little girl, who was mauled to death by a couple of dogs. At best, the narration draws up a person who has many personal demons and for whom, maybe, lacks a conscience. This isn't to say that he doesn't show some humanity, if only briefly, glimpsed in a moment where he apologizes to his long-dead mother, someone he clearly misses. “I’m sorry,” he says, sounding momentarily like the child he still is and works so hard to keep tucked away under his cool veneer.
Interestingly, the film is building towards something greater and the revelation of the killer, as shown in both a drug-induced flashback sequence and an eventual confession from another character in the film, is shocking and, oh, so obvious to anyone paying attention to the clues. And the realization that maybe the guy, Ron Sterling (Rich Sibert), sitting in jail for Susan's murder, might not be the one who actually killed her, is chilling. Note the interaction between the other characters in the film towards one specific individual and you’ll gain a better insight into what the directors had in mind. A character study or a study in pantomimes? You be the judge. What are these people hiding and what draws them together.
Given my subtle praise for the film, I have to point out some problems that I had with it. First, although sometimes engaging, many of the characters introduced, namely the Butcher and the detectives and a few of the drug dealers, could have been excised from the film without doing any harm to the final product. Often these side-stories lacked any real focus, in a logical sense, and more often it is clear their insertion was designed to get in a few extra pints of blood for shock value, or simply to extend the overall pacing – hoping to push the running time into feature length territory. A group of scenes involving two conspiracy-ranting rednecks (Russ Mick and Jeremy Rice), a kid driving his car while masturbating (Chyenne Hawkins) and another young fellow (Ken Barande), who goes on a tirade about Metallica and file-sharing, were positively unnecessary and they stick out like sore thumbs.
The acting runs from very good to very bad, namely the two detectives (Darwin Tademy Jr and Kevin Smith) who are pointless and just plain awful. On the other hand, some of the performances are quite remarkable, namely Lucas Corcoran who plays the lead, Kelly Brady. This kid, with his hated-filled eyes and dark sinister sneer, is just awesome! With a simple look, he conveys more emotion than some actors can with ten pages of dialogue. As his character slowly becomes more filled in, it becomes obvious that his early rants about killing his classmates or hating his father were more than just juvenile rants -- there is definitely something "off" with this personality. As the lead, he is forced to interact with all groups of people in numerous scenes and every time he pulls it off, especially in one particular and very dramatic scene with Billy Marshall, who plays his flamboyantly gay father. This kid has real talent and, hopefully, he'll be able to put it to use in some future productions. Also look for an appearance by Peter Donald Badalamenti II as Little G, a street thug who, with pal, Big G (as himself), takes care of some business for Kelly. Badalamenti has since gone onto moderate stardom appearing alongside Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" as Penrod, a member of the Flying Dutchman.
On at least two occasions, there are technical mishaps that stand way out and only work to remind viewers of how low-budget the production is; in one a microphone can be heard scraping as Kelly enters a room and in another, during a scene in the woods, the director can be heard yelling, “Action!” Clearly these mistakes should never have made it into the film but, sadly, when you’re dealing with limited budgets, inexperienced actors and time constraints, such things can happen and are forgivable. On the other hand, Kevin A. Armstrong's editing, which brings to mind Stone's "Natural Born Killers" is fast-paced, erratic and montage-like, which is in keeping with the film's methamphetamine-like craziness. It really helps to highlight the unpredictability as well as the chaotic lifestyles of the characters.
Aside from Scott Putesky (aka Daisy Berkowitz), an ex-Marilyn Manson guitarist, composing the music for the soundtrack, it also features the likes of Against all Authority, Load, Radiobaghdad, Murderbilla, Find Them To Fight Them and Sinful Lust each of which help to drive the movie.
In the end, I can't help but recommend "Gorno: An American Tragedy". Sure it's flawed and sometimes silly and more often than not hunkered down with over-the-top characters and situations, but who gives a shit? The film was also engaging and chilling and definitely worth a watch.