Local teenagers are surprised when the titular high schooler (Nick Szeman) hosts an open-invitation rager, mostly because nobody truly knows who Travis is. When he isn’t deemed as “the weird kid” at school, people are simply forgetting about him. His only true friend is Jenner (Chad Hamilton-Andrews), a confrontational slickster who also feels like an outsider for being one of the only openly gay people in his town. Jenner is baffled by Travis’ decision to invite his peers to his house and offer them free beer and drugs while Turner’s parents are away – something is motivating Travis. Travis assures Jenner that nothing is wrong, and insists everyone at his party has fun (and to not go upstairs).
Borrowing the same drug-induced fever dream energy he exhibited so well in Crackerhead, Klassen aims to bring the same disorientation to a much more dense environment – bigger space, more people. However, this worked for Crackerhead because it hinged on the experience of being cooped up not only in a small space, but in your hazy thoughts. Travis Turner works on a more surface-level because Klassen puts more pressure on the characters to carry the story and vibes. And, unfortunately, the film doesn’t really find its footing because these characters aren’t very interesting and the performances are flat (aside from Jenner, performed extremely well by Andrews). When the conflict isn’t being driven by Travis and Jenner, the viewer is stuck in the crowd of bored teenagers, caught up in monotonous discussions about sex, individuality, and conspiracy theories.
Once the audience is tipped off that there is something “strange” going on upstairs, we desperately want someone to discover it and add another layer to Travis Turner. When someone eventually does make the discovery, it’s too late to develop the plot further, but this does add an eerie twist on Klassen’s movie; as if the filmmaker has transported us from the house party to a campfire in the woods.
The strongest quality of Travis Turner is how Mike Klassen captures the excitement of a rowdy house party; based off of the mood the filmmaker establishes, the eavesdropping cinematography by frequent collaborator Jason Armstrong, and the awesome soundtrack (notably the catchy tunes by hip hop artist Nate Rose). Otherwise, there’s not much else to brag about.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie