Two independent films came out this week with complementary takes on the violent consequences of restlessness. Writer/director/co-star Michael Levine's Wild Canaries centers around a single apartment building, with an engaged Brooklyn couple embroiled in what may or may not be a murder mystery involving their landlord. Andrew T. Betzer'sYoung Bodies Heal Quickly takes place on the road, with two brothers on the lam after accidentally becoming murderers. Levine plays his tightly scripted scenario for laughs, while Betzer crafts a loose, uncomfortable mood piece.
In Wild Canaries, Barrie (Sophia Takal, an accomplished filmmaker in her own right) and Noah (Levine) have their premarital woes amplified when an elderly neighbor gives up the ghost and Barrie suspects foul play. There's a playfulness to her paranoia at first, but schemes that start out that way have a tendency to get serious. Still, the descent down this particular rabbit hole is rarely less than charming. Levine deftly toes the seriocomic line, making us sure nothing underhanded has actually occurred in one scene and making us question that certainty in the next.
Just as urgent as the possibility that Barrie and Noah are living near a killer is the fact that they're having trouble living with each other. She's a little flighty, he's kind of a dick. This comes through in the form of her chiding him for not taking her seriously and him scoffing at her refusal to focus on more pressing matters, like the fact that he's paying the rent by himself. You often wonder whether their relationship can survive the supposed plot they're mixed up in, to say nothing of whether it even should.
The destructive waywardness of bored rural youth is at the fore in Young Bodies Heal Quickly. Betzer's pleasingly lo-fi drama opens on two brothers knocking the hell out of an abandoned car with baseball bats for the sheer joy of it before upping the ante with a BB gun. Unfortunately, shooting a donkey proves uneventful. So, when that gets old, they set their crosshairs on two girls, which naturally leads to a fight. In one of those tragically stupid moments that set off so many movie plots, someone dies in the ensuing skirmish. Then the brothers (simply credited as Older and Younger) do what any confused adolescents would do. They run away.
Thus begins an itinerant lifestyle consisting of getting into trouble, fleeing to a new spot where they can lay low, then getting into trouble and fleeing again. This tapers off once they settle down with their hermetic father in the second half of the film, which is also where Young Bodies Heal Quickly loses what little narrative momentum it had. The milieu is lean in dialogue, but rich in lackadaisical atmosphere, giving the vibe of a thousand afternoons misspent killing time and brain cells.
This is captured via grainy Super 16mm cinematography courtesy of Sean Price Williams, the indie world's unofficial director of photography of choice, whose vivid lensing is largely responsible for the film's alluring, hazy atmosphere. Older and Younger never feel like more than ciphers, though it's debatable whether they're even meant to, so the burden is often in Williams to make the mundane feel unique. And he delivers time and time again. Betzer's treatment of the material is appropriately freewheeling, not unlike a more focused Harmony Korine, and the early sequences in particular serve as a corrective to bloated American indies trafficking in the same cliches as their studio counterparts. It isn't quite sustainable as far as crafting a narrative goes, but it is admirable.
BothYoung Bodies Heal Quickly and Wild Canaries are centered around acts of violence, which leads them down two distinct, yet equally chaotic paths. Levine embraces that dysfunction, unafraid to go off the rails when the occasion calls for it. While the rails barely even factor into the equation for Betzer, as his narrative completely dissolves by the end of the film. Maybe Young Bodies might have benefited from the sense of control that keeps Wild Canaries in check, but as a counterpoints to each other, both indie films are worth a watch.
Follow Michael on Twitter.