Hell is Other People watches the wanderings of an unemployed, post-slacker as he struggles to get a job and sweetly extort money from his similarly unmoored (if more sorted-out) friends. This gently paced comedy, indistinctly set in Chattanooga, Tennessee, feels like a marriage between Richard Linklater’s early work and an inversion of Mumblecore (trading emotional vagueness and verbal clarity for emotional clarity and totally incomplete sentences). However what first time feature director Jarrod Whaley (an acquaintance of this critic) has done here is distinct; a hyper-specific take on regional cinema, a subset of film that is itself already hyper-specific. The rhythms are often dysplastic, the characters dyspeptic and while the title invokes a well-known quote by Sartre, the existential angle of the film takes such a subtle and semi-literal tack on the matter you hardly know you’re thinking philosophically. Deliberately slight in every way, it’s very pleasurable and should make a good title for the cocktail party reference rounds when it plays CineQuest 20 in spring. Distribution unset. Morty (Richard Johnson) is hard to pin down. He moves at the speed of slugs and his gestures follow suit. Though he circles job postings in a newspaper and gets a well-needed haircut, we never see him in formal interview; rather he has unclear dialogues with friends that seem smooth enough … until he tries to fleece them. He’s gentle about this, of course, because everything about Morty is doughy—from his discourse to his waistband. His associations are unwittingly hilarious. One attempt at wage earning has him playing psychiatrist for his ex girlfriend’s slightly incredulous pal. (All he needs is a boxcar-booth and he’s the sad-hipster Lucy Van Pelt.) While everyone has something to say about Morty’s oddness, most are just obsessive about their own discomforts. The only person who seems comfortable in this universe is the drug dealer (played with an appropriate snarl by Tom Landis). Ironically, this fringe dweller is our touchstone, not simply because he speaks directly but because he seems most at peace with being ostensibly friendless. Everyone is a commodity from where he sits and that suits him fine. To Morty, however, everyone’s almost his friend, which leaves him stuck in his own perpetually awkward semi-conversation. All of this amounts to a fantastically seamless integration of philosophy into a totally everyday context. These people are not quoting existentialism: we’ve learned the hard way that’s self-defeating—the best route here is demonstration, which HIOP does in spades, and with camerawork that mirrors the nebulous focus of the characters. Sure, there’s a film reference (the drug dealer says of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a film famously about solitary sense and social insanity, “This is what you take a girl to you want to not date anymore.”), thus suggesting the point of that reference was to identify the pointlessness of comparison. Heaven may well be loneliness, crushing as that seems. Caligari, in which Hell truly was other people, resembles Hell not at all. Funny enough, Hell becomes a circuitous joke of sorts: it’s as discredited by these characters as is psychology and just as extensively patronized. Part of why the characters are Hell is they seem wholly without boundaries and what a bitchy fog they sort of weave. Yes, they’re masking aggressions and anxieties, their loneliness is burdensome, but somehow it’s all just contentedly absurd. Distributor: TBD Cast: Richard Johnson, Tom Landis, Mary Beth Sanders, Jonathan Nichols and Rebecca Allen Director/Screenwriter/Producer: Jarrod Whaley Genre: Comedy Rating: Unrated Running time: 75 min. Release date: TBD
An existential nautilus shell wound as tightly as it is loose.