By: Trevor Chartrand
Doomed by circumstance, citizens of the gritty slum town Badsville are generally faced with two options: escape the city or die trying. In a corrupt town ruled by gangsters and criminals, the world built in director April Mullen’s Badsville may be bleak and daunting, but it’s not a world without hope.
When gang leader Wink’s (Ian McLaren) mother dies, the cold-hearted gangster faces some tough truths and decides, once and for all, to leave his life of crime behind by getting out of Badsville for good. The decision feels more and more right when he meets Suzy (Tamara Duarte), a woman with a similar dark past who he can run away with. But with tensions rising between Wink’s best friend Benny (Benjamin Barrett) and a rival gang, Wink finds himself torn between two worlds. Will Wink stay in Badsville to save Benny, or run to protect his own interests?
Written by and co-starring Ian McLaren and Benjamin Barett, there are a few narrative surprises scattered throughout this dark and gritty crime drama. What’s missing in this film though is an escalating sense of tension throughout. Instead of an ever-present, constant threat of violence, the film’s early sequences are meandering and poorly paced. Since the villains are not introduced until about halfway through the movie, the danger is established way too late. As a result, Badsville suffers from a conflict deficiency that’s hard to ignore. For a movie like this to work, viewers need to feel the rival gang’s ominous, vicious, presence constantly to maintain the looming inevitability of their final showdown. Once the villains are introduced, the film finds its focus, raising the stakes and dramatic intrigue.
The performances overall are slightly lacking, especially since most characters carry themselves with a guarded, tough front throughout the film. The actors are generally one-note, failing to convey any depth or conflict beneath their tough exterior. Some of the supporting cast members do stand out however; including Gregory Kasyan as Sammy, the thug-wannabe kid who looks up to Wink as a father figure. The very concept of innocence-versus-corruption is personified in Sammy, a younger character grappling with his place in this dark world. Prison Break’s Robert Knepper also turns in the violent and ruthless performance audiences would expect from the small screen veteran; he’s pleasantly unsettling as always.
What’s most unique and thought-provoking about Badsville is its undeterminable era, which gives the film a timeless allure. With greasy, slicked-back hair and dated colloquialisms, characters in the film appear to have stepped right out of the 1950’s, even though the movie isn’t intended as a period piece. We see vehicles from all ages, including a late 50s/early 60s pickup truck, and four-door sedans from the 80s or 90s. When the gangsters call each other ‘daddio,’ it’s really unclear what time period the world of Badsville is supposed to be set in. In actuality, the film effectively combines these time period conventions to create a unique world that defies era, opening up the narrative to appeal to every generation.
As a flawed film, Badsville is littered with flat characters and clichéd, ‘tough guy’ dialogue that immediately distances itself from its audience. The film is most interesting in its final moments, but it’s unfortunate that the build-up isn’t nearly as compelling as the pay-off. Badsville lacks conflict and tension for far too long, and investment in the story and characters becomes challenging as a result. The world building is vivid and compelling, but alas, a unique setting is only as interesting as the characters who inhabit it.
An enjoyable film despite its rocky start, Badsville is a plain, straightforward dramatic thriller with a surprising and tense final act, exploring optimism and hope in the most austere situations.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor