We’re wrapping up our coverage of the 15th Annual Waterfront Film Festival today.  The Festival, hosted for the first time this year in South Haven, Michigan, is always my favorite weekend of the year.  It’s always a great time and if you’re anywhere near the area or you have the wherewithal to travel, you should definitely make some time to attend.  Today, I’m reviewing the last two movies I saw this year, Crave and White Reindeer.

Crave – My favorite narrative film of the Festival, Crave is a weird and compelling crime drama about a crime scene photographer losing his grip on reality.  Aiden, a guy who fantasizes at length about building an invention that can get rid of “bad people” and selling it to Bill Gates for a billion dollars, is a recovering alcoholic obsessed with images of violence.  He’s a 21st Century Travis Bickle, only more delusional.  When Crave begins, he’s only a little bit odd.  More socially inept than anything, really.  Between a series of increasingly brutal murders and a crush on Virginia, a pretty new neighbor, Aiden starts to fall apart – his fantasies of being the good guy increasingly translate into his being a real life bad guy.

There’s a great moment early on when Aiden daydreams about standing up to the guys hassling a woman, and all of a sudden it’s not clear what kind of movie this is going to be.  For just a second, it seems like it’s going to be the kind of movie where the main character actually carries around a sophisticated handgun with a laser sight and shoots off kneecaps with impunity.  But in reality, Crave is the kind of movie where the main character hates himself for not being that guy.  Aiden’s fantasy scenes pop up throughout, and it becomes increasingly less clear whether we can trust what we’re seeing.  By the end, you’re left hoping that we’ll snap back to reality.  (This is a minor spoiler, but it’s such a clever moment.  At one point, against all odds, Aiden impresses Virginia and they have lavish sex.  Then we cut back to the moment before that scene began, which puts it in the fantasy category.  But then Aiden looks into the camera, and tells us that he’s kidding and the sex was actually real, and then we go back to the couple in bed.  I’ve explained it poorly, but watching it happen was legitimately delightful.)

Since creepy guys with dreams of punishing the wicked aren’t traditionally good with women, the relationship doesn’t go smoothly.  And every setback just pushes Aiden closer to collapse.  He steals a gun from a crime scene, blackmails a sleazy rich guy, witnesses a murder and almost becomes the second victim of a gun-wielding prostitute.  The climactic scene is deeply disturbing, as Aiden quickly unravels over one incredibly stupid decision.  It’s really excellent filmmaking, as his mistakes pile up so quickly that it’s practically a comedy.  Well, except for the fact that people are going to die.

Australian actor Josh Lawson is great in the lead role – he straddles the likeable/creepy divide well and makes the whole thing work.  Emma Lung, also from Australia, keeps Virginia from being just the sort-of-girlfriend and lets us in on the character’s pain and confusion.  And in a small role as Aiden’s cop friend is the great Ron Perlman.  The star of Sons of Anarchy and Hellboy (and onetime Batman voice) is low-key in this role but he’s as effective as ever.  Any scene with Perlman in it feels important, even if they’re just betting on horses.  The man is a national treasure.

I’m so impressed with Crave.  It’s an indie crime drama without irony or any kind of Tarantino gloss, which makes it a real rarity.  Strong storytelling and excellent performances lift it above the pack.

White Reindeer – I closed out the festival with this dark comedy.  Suzanne and Jeff are sort of the perfect couple – they’re adorable, they’re moving to Hawaii, they love Christmas, she wears pearls unironically.  And then just before the holidays, he’s killed by a burglar.  Suzanne has a hard enough time dealing with the loss, collapsing into binge shopping.  But then one of Jeff’s co-workers tells her about his secret life and an affair with a stripper.

Playing out over the three weeks before Christmas, White Reindeer has Suzanne attempting to put her life back together, first by making friends with the stripper and then getting caught up in her life of shoplifting and casual drug use.  Along the way, she gets arrested, learns that her parents are getting divorced, and attends an orgy.  (Which, by the way, is fantastic.  I am generally not impressed with sex comedy, but these scenes are unpleasant and hilarious and emotionally grounded.)

In a lot of ways, it’s a quiet movie.  Other than the orgy, I mean.  It’s really about a couple of women who’ve lost somebody that they maybe didn’t know as well as they thought, and they don’t know what to do with that.  Anna Margaret Hollyman is fantastic as Suzanne.  She manages to be both haunted and funny, and really sells this character who makes terrible decisions but seems them through even as she immediately regrets them.  Her friendship with Fantasia is handled beautifully – Fantasia never seems like a caricatured movie stripper, even when the elements that make up that caricature are front and center.  Legitimately sweet moments contrast nicely with some surprisingly dirty scenes.  It’s the kind of movie I never would have seen without the Waterfront Film Festival, and that’s exactly why I go every year.

And that closes out the year.  I’d like to thank the volunteers at the WFF for putting on such a great festival year after year – the move to the new location was handled extremely well and it was another excellent festival.  I’ll see you all next year!

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