I was looking forward to this one in large part because it was described as a crime thriller with Ron Perlman. Or, something like that. Ron Perlman is really the only descriptive term I paid attention to because, as we say, “Who doesn’t love Ron Perlman?” I also adore me some Eddie Furlong whenever I get the chance, so that was really all I needed to get my butt into the theatre to check out the Toronto premiere of Charles de Lauzirika’s directorial debut feature, Crave. I have to say – I am very glad that I did!
I think I said something in my previous little write-up looking at the films I would be seeing that, if this ended up being an interesting character study, then I would be happy. Crave ended up giving me far more than I’d hoped for going in – the film contains characters who are fleshed-out and complete in all of their flawed beauty, a slow-burning plot that grows to a boil so steadily that you never know quite when the breaking point will be reached (just that you feel it coming the whole time), and a background of such cold stark imagery that when those moments of soft golden warmth shine through, they seem to glow right off the screen and into your very soul. The lead character, Aiden (Josh Lawson) is so charming and likeable even as he’s childish, broken and mentally coming unglued – I think every one of us can identify with many of the thoughts he shares with us as the film progresses, and that’s part of what makes watching his tragic trajectory so unsettling. In so many ways, Aiden’s story could belong to any one of us.
A freelance crime scene photographer, Aiden sees the worst and most violent endings to human lives every day, and he captures them in vivid detail through his camera lens while trying to remain detached enough to not let it get inside. He near-worships his police detective friend and confidante, Pete, seeing him as a man who “saves people”. I question that logic, however, as it seems that both Pete and Aiden show up after the fact, when it’s too late to save the victims of violent crime. Aiden takes the photos, and Pete hunts the criminals, but the fact remains that neither of them can stop the crimes – all they can do is pick up whatever pieces are left once another life falls apart and comes to an end.
Aiden develops a stalker-y crush on a younger woman (Emma Lung) who lives in his building, and when he sees her arguing with her boyfriend, Ravi (Edward Furlong), his inner monologue becomes more persistent, and begins to distract him from some of the violent sights and thoughts in which he’s been dwelling thus far. Actually, Aiden’s monologue is often more of a dialogue, his self-talk at times becoming so fractured that he seems to be more than one person inside his own head. It’s not long, however, before his quirky cuteness charms the girl down the hall, and they begin a brief (but for Aiden, intense) affair. Things seem to go well for awhile, but Aiden is so close to the edge that being witness to an armed robbery gone awry – coupled with being rejected by Virginia the girlfriend – is enough to shatter his already-tenuous grasp on reality, and send him spiraling out of control.
There are so many things I loved about this film, including how heavy and DOWN I felt by the end, because to me that speaks very highly of de Lauzirika’s skill as a director. His film is loaded with humour and darkness in a perfect – if delicate – dance with one another, and the character of Aiden is such an everyman that you really do feel for the guy when things start to go sideways for him. Emma Lung is impossible to look away from when she’s on screen, and she seamlessly floats her character, Virginia, through Aiden’s imagination and reality - often using just her eyes and facial expression – in such flawless cadence with Aiden’s emotional state that it’s sometimes hard for even the viewer to know what’s real and what’s not. Ron Perlman is the gruff voice of reason and morality in the film, but even he can’t quite provide adequate arguments to dilute some of Aiden’s larger or more pressing questions. Yes, the world would be a better place if 9 out of 10 criminals were killed instead of jailed, but what are you going to do? To a guy with the occasional sledgehammer-smashing-head vision, half an answer isn’t quite enough to dispel the vision itself, let alone the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind it. Edward Furlong successfully walks Ravi along the line of greasy scumbag and endearing birthday-cake-baker to the point where even Aiden has to admit that the world is filled with more grey tones than it is black and white, but by then he is far too unhinged to understand what any of that might mean.
One little thing I noticed that added even more to my enjoyment of the film was that Aiden usually uses his nice digital SLR camera for his crime scene photography – for his jobs – but that he also has an old vintage film camera that he carries with him for “special occasions”. As viewers, we saw Aiden use that camera twice, I believe – once at a crime scene so horrific that he knew he couldn’t sell the photos, but he couldn’t stop himself from taking them, anyway, and once at the end for a crime scene to which he felt a more personal connection. In both cases, we weren’t really shown the photos that he was taking with that camera. A quick glimpse into the first crime scene he used it for – shots that opened and closed with the speed of the camera shutter – but other than that, whatever he saw through the lens of the old film camera stayed between Aiden and his camera. I loved that little detail a LOT.
In the end, Crave can very easily be compared to the greats like Taxi Driver and Fight Club, but its lead is much more likable and sympathetic than Travis Bickle, and there are no Brad Pitt shenanigans to distract the viewer from what’s happening to Aiden. Instead, he is laid bare before us, and as viewers we are forced to take this journey with him – from the inside out – and perhaps the true horror in Crave is not in the events it depicts, but in how much of Aiden we can see in ourselves. Nice job, Charles de Lauzirika! You have crafted an intelligent, unsettling, charming and ultimately refreshing character study that left me feeling both shaken AND stirred in the end. Well done!
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