Sunday, March 22, 2015

SXSW 2015: Manson Family Vacation, The Goob, and Results

Manson Family Vacation is a disarmingly unpredictable tale of reconciliation between two brothers. When Conrad (Linas Phillips) shows up to visit his estranged brother, Nick (Jay Duplass), the two are revealed to be such polar opposites that it's no surprise to learn that Conrad was adopted: Big, blond, shaggy, unemployed Conrad is laidback but radiates an air of outlaw unpredictability, while dark, slight Nick, a successful lawyer, is buttoned down from his shirt to his emotions. The shock is in learning that Conrad's adoptive father and brother were relentlessly critical of him, denying him the love they shared with each other.

Nick's disapproval is fueled on this visit by Conrad's newfound obsession with Charles Manson, whom he talks about with a giggly excitement that suggests admiration. His obsession gives even the film's most innocuous scenes a frisson of danger, leaving open the question of just how devoted Conrad is to the murderous Manson. Old news footage, which covers enough of the basics to clue in viewers who know nothing about Manson, focuses on his vision of family, with clips of the man talking about his childhood and what he wants for his son providing more fodder for the nature-versus-nurture debate that percolates under Nick and Conrad's lifelong feud.

Writer-director J. Davis keeps the dynamics between the brothers dangerously unstable as they zigzag between sparring over their family history and teaming up to help each other, like when Conrad gets Nick to relax with a game of pool or Nick uses his persuasive skills to talk Conrad into the La Bianca home he's so eager to explore. That sense of instability ratchets up as the two encounter a group of Manson acolytes, in scenes that echo the TV series The Following, only with a sense of humor and without the exploitative wallowing in gore. Creepy as it seems at first, Davis's focus on Charlie Manson and his cult of family turns out to be an inventive and effective way to dissect dysfunctional family dynamics.

The rural England of Guy Myhill's The Goob looks a lot like our rural South, with long stretches of crops punctuated by unassuming houses and small roadside businesses. Dropping the viewer straight into the action without clunky exposition, the film delivers a vivid slice of the life centering on the Goob (Liam Walpole), as he's called by his family, a lanky teenager whose summer is stained by the omnipresent shadow of his mother's violent, womanizing sociopath of a live-in boyfriend, Womak (Sean Harris). Read the rest on The House Next Door

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