Directed by: Simon Hawkins, Zeke Hawkins
Written by: Dutch Southern
Cast: Mackenzie Davis, Jeremy Allen White, Logan Huffman, Mark Pellegrino
I finally saw a movie in English at Fantastic Fest. It was a welcome experience. I have no issues with subtitles, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to hear the dialogue and not read it. This first English movie was We Gotta Get Out Of This Place. This is a small movie that feels big. It is both local and universal. The story is about three teenagers in a small town in Texas, and while it’s very much set in Texas the emotional trajectory of the film could really start out anywhere. Everyone’s dreamed of getting out from where they are and everyone’s felt the anxiety of leaving old lives behind.
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place is a coming of age film hidden in a taut, merciless crime thriller. It’s River’s Edge in Texas. Replace the denim jackets with cowboy hats and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going on here. The story revolves around Bobby (Jeremy Allen White), a young man who plans on going away to college with his friend Sue (Mackenzie Davis). His best friend and Sue’s boyfriend, B.J. (Logan Huffman) is the one who is staying behind. To celebrate their success B.J. takes his friends to Corpus Christi for the weekend. How does he pay for it? Stolen money, friends. Stolen money. SMH, B.J. When the boys return from their ill-gotten weekend, they find their boss Giff (Mark Pellegrino in a role that is so much more evil than his Satan in Supernatural. See you soon Sam and Dean!) kicking the security guard Ernesto and demanding his money back. Eventually Bobby’s conscience, or something, compels him to take the blame.
In response to this false confession, Giff demands that Bobby and B.J. steal the money, and more, from local gangster Big Red. Once he learns of Sue’s involvement in spending the money, Giff orders the boys to drag her into the mess as well. It is such a mess, but a beautiful one. Directors Simon and Zeke Hawkins show an incredible ability to display hope and emptiness in a single image. The film never lets you forget where it’s set, or why its characters want to leave so badly. We Gotta Get Out Of This Place embraces teenage wanderlust, but not unconditionally. It lands punches on the desire to get out, from little jabs to heartbreaking haymakers.
What makes this film special, what makes it comparable to great works like River’s Edge and Brick, is its impeccable balance. It teeters on a line between a growing up film and small town noir without ever tumbling over into one or the other. It manages to keep both balls in the air, and they’re both effective as hell. A lot of this has to do with the camera work I mentioned earlier. Shots are framed to relay boatloads of thematic and atmospheric information. It’s high-level visual storytelling. There’s no doubt about that. What really makes this movie work, the source of its beautiful dark twisted fantasy, are the performances of its four key characters. Giff’s every movement spills malevolence onto the set. B.J.’s desperation and pain bubble under the surface each second he’s on the screen, except for the moments when it erupts and threatens to drag the entire audience into the abyss. Bobby is constantly being pulled in different directions, and his face is a constant sea of doubt. It is Mackenzie Davis’s Sue that really steals the show despite these other fantastic performances. I definitely fell in love with her for the duration of the film. I think anyone with a heart would. In the midst of the small town with all of its nothing, Sue provides a whole lot of something. She is able to play determined with just enough self-doubt, smart with more to learn, brave but still afraid. Sue’s an entire movie on her own.
We Gotta Get Out Of This Place is a special piece of filmmaking. One that knows what it wants to be and executes at every opportunity. It is in every way an indie film, but it goes leaps and bounds beyond the mumblecore nonsense that seems to have defined nonstudio productions these past few years. It’s a movie about a feeling that we never quite outgrow, no matter what we tell ourselves. A beautiful, thoughtful piece of work, the Hawkins’ first film portends a bright future, but what matters is the present. That’s this movie in all of its southern fried excellence.