I have only seen Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies and Adam Wingard’s You’re Next.
Perhaps that makes me a distro-snob.
I liked Drinking Buddies and I loved You’re Next. By all accounts – reading up on these filmmakers (plus Simon Barrett) – those are their most polished works. I’ve largely avoided the mumblecore and mumblehorror movement (outside of Ti West). Again, perhaps it’s a distro-snob thing. I like a movie that looks like a movie, or has a recognizable movie actor, or at least someone who appears to want to be an actor.
I preface in this regard because if you look at Swanberg and Wingard’s filmography, I’m not sure what to make of it. They have directed a lot. They have acted a lot. Before I’d seen Drinking Buddies, I’d seen You’re Next and knowing who Swanberg is, I really enjoyed the in-film movie vs. commercial discussion that he had with Ti West in a Lionsgate horror movie.
I get that these filmmakers often work together and film each other in scripted and unscripted scenarios. However, as Swanberg’s newest, 24 Exposures is my first non-larger-distributed film that I’ve seen of his. I can only speak to the film I’ve been assigned to review. Judging by how meta Swanberg gets in Exposures, and You’re Next, I think there might be a few more winks and threads to previous works that they've all done together than I am privy to.
What I do know is that there is a great Brian De Palma film within 24 Exposures. It is also filled with some perfectly framed De Palma moments: peering at women through blinds, sterile unfulfilling design of homes and offices, a third act that reveals that it never knew where to go with the narrative and explains it away in very writer-ly fashion.
However, the acting is often times really bad. The performance by Mike Brune, as a jealous boyfriend, is what the Razzies should be reserved for, instead of picking on easy targets such as, hey guys! Lindsay Lohan was in a movie!
Wingard and Barrett are the primary actors here, and they’re fine, although Barrett (who generally writes the films that Wingard directs, such as You’re Next and the Bibb’s approved 2014 Sundance film, The Guest) playing a cop feels very much like making a film in high school: he looks far too young for his badge and his weary cop worldview.
OK, so what is 24 Exposures? Boobs and blood. Not the blood from stab wounds, although a killer is on the loose. Fake blood. Fake wounds.
Wingard is a fetish photographer. He photographs models in various times of undress as they are running from a captor or discovered dead and stripped nude for their killer. One of his models turns up for real dead and Barrett investigates, but really, he’s more than a little intrigued with Wingard’s harem.
There is a photo set-up toward the end of 24 Exposures that is entirely worthy of De Palma, lit in blue and black through blinds. Indeed, there’s a great shot after this where Wingard and a former model talk off-stage, framed by the light in a hallway that looks to be the exact blown-up dimensions of an Instagram photo.
That shot seems to be the point of the whole film.
Maybe? I don’t know. I don’t know the language of Swanberg. But 24 Exposures feels like watching someone’s Instagram feed: occasionally there’s some fantastically lit shots, sometimes there’s a photo of a woman that implies a potential wandering eye, sometimes there’s pictures of friends who you can tell that they’re trying to act in a very specific way.
There’s enough in 24 Exposures that makes me wish Swanberg had gone the polished route with better actors and a larger crew. However, Swanberg seems perhaps most content seeing how he can make a film with friends and collaborators feel cinematic.
Instagram makes people who shouldn’t call themselves a photographer call themselves a photographer. Having access to digital video and friends who want to act doesn’t make one a filmmaker. However, there are obviously talented photographers on Instagram and they use that media well. I think Swanberg is a talented filmmaker who is getting the most out of his home video experiments (#nofilter).
I’ll look forward to when he decides to put on a little more of a filter.
I tend to prefer “rise.”