Written by Abraham Dieckman
Cast Maryssa Joy Wanlass, Samuel Richie, Lindsay Cookson, Conor Hamill, Charlie Vaughn, Peter Jonathan McArthur, James Camblin, Remi Barron
Trash & Progress is a highly ambitious indie film from Skylight City Films in conjunction with Satori Pictures. Best classified as a sci-fi western drama, the movie tells the story of an ensemble cast of characters encountered by Ellie Parrish (Maryssa Joy Wanless), a journalist in the making (she’s working on her dissertation) who crash lands on Earth, which is now a forgotten wasteland “littered with the rusted technology from a forgotten war” (from the film’s website). Most folks, presumably the more elite, have moved “off world” from Earth, leaving behind what most would consider the “have nots.” Those still on Earth are mired in a kind of Big Brother conspiracy environment, subject to propaganda blaring from loudspeakers everywhere and somewhat under control of a mysterious, near faceless dictating authority. There also seems to be a type of societal hierarchy among those living in this ruinous Earth, complete with police officers and political radicals. What’s interesting is that, in spite of this hierarchy, almost everyone is determined to find out the true purpose of these guiding forces in an effort to be freed of such control. When they find the source and reasons of this oppression, they are confronted with their own inadequacies, suspicions and conspiratorial machinations.
Trash & Progress is an indie flick. Trash & Progress was shot entirely on location in the San Francisco area in about 40 days with local cast and crew. Almost all of the music is original and the effects work is for the most part really well done with some digital composition as well as miniature and full scale models. The cinematography is great to exceptional most of the time. In only a few circumstances do the strings show, mostly with some dodgy composites of the spherical surveillance bots that pop up often to monitor (and sometimes judge) citizens. The way the story flows and the film unravels is also deliberate and very satisfactory; patience is rewarded for the most part with a gradual fleshing out of the story. The only thing this reviewer would have liked to seen is perhaps a little more exposition and back story on this “new” Earth, its inhabitants and how things came to be. Other than reading between the lines and the visual tidbits picked up throughout watching, I knew more about this aspect of the film via the film website’s official synopsis rather than through the movie itself.
The ensemble nature of Trash & Progress also works particularly well. There’s not really one main character, although events are set in motion by Ellie’s tumultuous landing on Earth. Character narratives weave in and out of each other’s gracefully and succinctly, which makes the slow burn nature of the plot’s unfolding as described above that much more satisfactory. Some actors are weaker than others; in particular, Wanless’ Ellie is up and down. There are scenes where we care a great deal for her, and others where her reactions are suspect at best. For instance, during the crash landing her husband dies. Although she sheds a tear at not even being able to bury him, her grief is slightly unconvincing and as a result a pivotal scene falls a bit flat. Another character that could’ve been tremendous is Charlie Vaughn’s Maynard Fletcher, a cop who is attempting to take down a politically dissident group led by Peter John McArthur’s Elliot Muddle. Vaughn is given some of the best lines to work with in the film but is completely unconvincing as he can’t decide upon a range to settle within. Instead he throttles back and forth from deep-toned seriousness and high-pitched incredulity.
Speaking of acting, let’s talk about the standout character and actor of the film: Peter John McArthur as Elliot Muddle. Muddle is the spokesperson for the coming changes he sees on the horizon, preaching that truth instead of propaganda will soon free the citizens of this barren new Earth city they roam in. At first he is set up to be the villain, acting as a terrorist at one point (think explosion) and sharing a past with Vaughn’s Fletcher. Throughout the course of the film, though, his agenda becomes clearer and it seems that for all his extremism, he sees more clearly than the rest who are also seeking truth. (Doesn’t hurt that he gets the best line in the film regarding democracy, either.) McArthur shines in this film and it would behoove all of us to pay attention to whatever roles he treats audiences to next.
To reveal any more of the story or character motivations would go too far into spoiler territory, so if something like what’s been outlined above sounds interesting, I would recommend checking out Trash & Progress. The only reason my score goes down into the
low 8’s is because of some muddying waters when it comes to overarching story the film tries to tell, and the lack of some information that I feel would have complemented the proceedings. Also, some retakes on certain scenes would have done wonders to convincingly maintain the instead sporadically convincing themes laid at one’s feet upon viewing. Despite all this, Trash & Progress is highly entertaining, thought provoking, and beautifully shot with excellently haunting music. It’s worth a look — and for this reviewer, a re-watch to examine what may have been missed upon first viewing.
Trash & Progress is currently available for viewing on VOD on Amazon. This review was prepared from a screener made available to Renegade Cinema.