If an attempt at describing this film is made, readers and potential viewers of American Scumbags will doubtlessly find no reason to explore Dakota Bailey’s latest film and will most likely find the idea of it reprehensible and irredeemable – that is to say that it is a dirty and ugly picture filled with contemptible characters and a sense of true and senseless nihilism. But describing it in any amount of detail would be doing it a disservice because it does have some value and its value has nothing to do with words or language, and is beyond any real description. It is a heartless film but it is not a worthless piece of work and to watch it is to accept it for what it is, and allow its ugliness to pass through you to arrive at a certain grittiness that has some mysterious appeal.
The most a review can attempt to accomplish in terms of description is to give a very vague and shallow outline of the main features. To start with, it is black and white. In a sense, this is the only way American Scumbags could be seen because colour would not fit. The sky would be too blue and the blood would be too red. Black and white allows the viewer to watch the film with the distance needed to find some form of pleasure in the experience. It is a film that does not rely on much – it is pulled along by unexpected connections formed between different characters as they get through what seems to be a short period of time committing terrible acts, partly fuelled by drugs and partly out of what seems to be an innate and bloodthirsty craving for violence.
Read at Unsung Films: Rigor Mortis.
The word violence is perhaps what sums up American Scumbags most effectively. It is not violent in a comic way, like Tarantino, but it made me think of a film Tarantino may have made in a parallel universe in which he never came out with Reservoir Dogs and instead grew somewhat embittered and started making films in some grim basement under his mother’s house. Nor is it violent like A Clockwork Orange, in which the protagonist, Alex emerges, in a strange sense, as likeable. It is violent simply and purely because its characters are violent. The other word that comes to mind is chaos. In the film, the characters are beyond any form of morality or order. They seem to be utterly and devastatingly distant from all states of comfort and ease. They embody a chaotic and nihilistic element that has existed in subculture American and European cinema and literature for decades, but in a deeper and more senseless form.
As the story moves forward rapidly, with swift and fluid editing, and from character to character, what is ever present more than anything else is that terrifying but wholly real sense of human perversion: people behaving in ways we simultaneously can and can’t understand. What I asked myself during the film was whether the filmmaker intended for American Scumbags to be an insight into some dark and pulsing element in our culture or whether it was simply an exercise in pure adrenaline-fuelled fantasy.
Watch the trailer for American Scumbags here:
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