Directors: Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott
Cast: Brittany Snow, Dave Bautista, Angelic Zambrana, Jeremie Harris, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Alex Breaux, Arturo Castro
Running Time: 1:34
Release Date: 8/25/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 24, 2017
Just a few minutes into Bushwick, directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott throw their characters—and, by extension, us—into the fire. It's a seemingly normal day in the eponymous neighborhood of Brooklyn. A seemingly happy couple has just arrived via the subway. The public address system says that the trains have stopped running, which is a normal enough occurrence for the public transportation system of a major city. As the couple walks and talks about him meeting her family for the first time, they notice that it appears as if no one else is in the station. That's about when they hear someone yelling, and shortly after that, they see a man, who is engulfed in flames, run down the stairs and toward the platform.
Something, obviously, is wrong in the neighborhood. Within the first five minutes of the movie, the guy in that couple is dead, having stepped outside of the subway station into the noise of gunfire and explosions. Soon after, the woman, named Lucy (Brittany Snow), will have run into the streets, witnessed multiple people being gunned down, seen others in plastic handcuffs, and observed a well-organized group of men in military-style garb shooting and detaining people.
The point is that she has no clue what has happened while she and her now-late boyfriend were on that train, and hence, we have no idea about what is happening in Bushwick. We later learn that such things are happening in other major cities across the United States, but nobody on the radio waves knows for certain what's happening. The only detail we get for a while is that it's not an attack. It's an invasion.
The answer turns out to be fairly relevant in our current age of political division along party and ideological lines, especially in terms of the rise of far right-wing militias and reactionary organizations that have started crawling out of the online world and into the real one. One would be tempted to call Nick Damici and Graham Reznick's screenplay a prophetic sort of fable. It would be, if not for the fact that, in the movie, the enemy group is little more than a collection of faceless villains, save for one man, who only exists to explain what's happening (and messes up a key line of dialogue in the process). For a premise as inherently political as this one, its purpose within the movie itself is simply an excuse for a seven-to-10-block walk in Bushwick to be as difficult as possible.
The point is a you-are-there brand of experience of urban warfare. From the moment one realizes that Murnion and Milott—along with cinematographer Lyle Vincent and editor Joe Hobeck—are presenting that experience as a faux one-take, the movie shows at least some promise from a technical perspective. Once one realizes that the gimmick is all the movie has going for it (as well as how the technique is used to cleverly but obviously hide the movie's budgetary restrictions, such as using sound effects to create a mostly unseen backdrop of war), that promise fades.
There's really not much else here. Before she can be sexually assaulted (Have filmmakers not tired of this cliché yet?), Lucy is saved by Stupe (Dave Bautista, the former professional wrestler, who shows some unexpected acting chops here as a weary and wounded man), a Marine veteran who left the service for a quiet life as a janitor. Lucy wants to get to her grandmother's house, and Stupe is willing to help her survive the chaos on the streets.
This means lots of running, yelling, and shooting (Lucy, who has never handled a gun before this point, becomes a precise, deadly shot under pressure by the end). Any characterization is absent, save for a couple of moments in which Lucy and Stupe take a breather to offer a speech apiece about their pasts. There are obstacles, of course (Lucy's finger is shot off, leading her, rather dully, to ask, "Is it bad?"), as well as diversions, such as trying to form a small platoon of neighborhood locals seeking sanctuary in a church (This leads to a raid in which it becomes amusingly obvious that the filmmakers are reusing the same two or three extras in battle gear over and over).
The action feels far too staged to convince as a realistic scenario, and it all feels like a hollow exercise, since we don't have any reason to care about these characters until it's too late for them. Bushwick has a premise that's ripe with political and technical potential, but the movie itself is repetitive, senseless, and, ultimately, bleak in a way that it doesn't earn.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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