After years of rotting in Joliet, Les, a wrongfully imprisoned street legend known as "The Ghoul", is released into a mad search through Chicago's back alleys for the man who slaughtered his mother and robbed him of his soul. Aided by mysterious benefactors, he must delve beneath the city into a modern labyrinth of gutters whose tendrils have grown deep while he was gone. What unfolds is a desperate tale of brute force tragedy set in the supernatural underworld of Chicago, where heroes are reduced to horror-shows, villains dream of their own demise, and good and evil prove to be antiquated concepts.
It could not be more appropriate that the film premiered at the 3rd Annual Filmquest. Reason being, Filmquest is a festival which specializes in genre films from the worlds of horror, fantasy, sci-fi and beyond. Chicago Rot is all of those things and more.
I hesitate to compare the picture to anything else, since there’s really nothing like it. There are things in the film which will remind you of Flash Gordon, of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and of Reservoir Dogs (in the shoot-em-up scenes – most notably the opening sequence). And while most films might have someone like me screaming, “Focus!” (as far as story), Chicago Rot was a joy to behold; in all of its multiple stories, moods and film genres. The fact that I liked that the film was all over the place – proves that it’s a triumph.
Les (Brant McCrea) is a serial killer in Chicago. He’s affectionately known as “The Ghoul”, and has recently been released from the prison in Joliet (a ‘burb of the Windy City). He’s got plenty of enemies and plenty of allies, but none of that matters to him, as he is on a mission of revenge – looking for the man who murdered his mother many years before. He reunites with his girlfriend Alex (Shira Barber) and the film becomes a journey into the supernatural, evil and disturbing world of Chicago’s underbelly – as Les follows the many leads to find the monster which ruined his life and to find peace. Add into the mix, Detective Dave Simmons (Dave Cartwright) – an embarrassment to the force – hot on Les’ tail, as well as one of the most epic group of colorful supporting characters this side of David Lynch, and you’ve got a very memorable, visually rich revenge epic.
Brant McCrea (a secret nomination for Best Actor in a Feature at Filmquest) portrays Les. I gave McCrea a positive review for last year’s Restoration (see review here), and in Chicago Rot – he must take on far more to communicate all that Les is up against. Les is determined to locate and destroy his nemesis and his complete bad-assery is mirrored by his love for Alex – and the softer moments between the couple work as well as the drop-down, drag-out violent scenes which McCrea must pull off. I was most impressed by McCrea’s choice to make Les impervious to any of the strange things going on around him. It was as if the encounters and meetings he had with all of these weird characters were part of his everyday existence. Based on the story, of course it was par for the course for Les, but there was an ease which McCrea brought to the character, which I found both sexy and perfectly-suited to Les. McCrea’s performance has a Snake Plissken/Nada of They Live kinda quality. Les is driven and one-minded. In both writing and performance – the character feels like he could be a John Carpenter creation.
There’s plenty of gore in Chicago Rot, and if that stuff gets your motor running, you’ll walk away more than satisfied. There are so many over-the-top, splatter-filled sequences in the film, you’ll easily lose track of which one is your favorite – that is, until you see the “dildo” scene. It’s reminiscent of a standout effects scene in the recent anthology film Southbound, and will have you both gagging and nodding your head in amazement – as well as appreciation. There are shoot-outs, skin-peelings, burning corpses and on-the-fly stitch-ups, keeping things lively.
One of my complaints about the film is the stark difference in the quality of the picture – as it goes from everyday moments (mainly those between Detective Simmons and his retired policeman father George – portrayed by Lee Kanne) and the no-holds-barred scenes in what is a hellish landscape for the film’s climax. These visual effects-heavy moments are striking and will no doubt incite some actual gasps and “wows”, while the ho-humness of the simpler moments look dimensionless and uninspired. Perhaps these noticeable differences were a conscious decision by the filmmakers. Either way, it was a distracting contrast of picture quality.
I also had some problems with the editing – certainly in the aforementioned climax, but also in a fight between Les and some giant, horned creature beneath a shop somewhere in Chicago (the Thunderdome-inspired scene). Les is fighting to obtain an important artifact, in order to continue his quest. Again, the costumes/visuals/sets are impressive, but here (as in the climax), the editing was far too jerky and quick. I lost a lot of what was going on in these tensely-edited moments. We all want images like this to be slick and to force us to the edge of our seat – but because we’re involved, not because we have to try to focus on what the hell’s going on.
The film has a very unique aesthetic. A woman situated in the back of an antique pick-up truck driving down a windy (and obviously cold) Lakeshore Drive – playing a piano and singing a song, is how the opening credits are delivered. It’s a clever and engaging way to get the audience onboard. And you’ll revisit this unnamed character a couple of more times in the film. The film is chalk-full of things like this – items out of place in our everyday world – making them oddly intriguing in the world of this film.
Visually imaginative with a uniquely told story and touting a massive menu of gore-filled delights, Chicago Rot is destined to become an underground cult-classic. I can’t see that it’ll ever become mainstream (not that I’m attempting a jinx), but the extreme and bloody violence and whack-job characters will guarantee a very specific audience. Will you be one of them? Trust me… you should.
The film was nominated for several awards at this year’s Filmquest. In addition to the secret nomination for McCrea, Chicago Rot was up for Best Feature Film, Best Director (Dorian Weinzimmer), Best Supporting Actor in a Feature (Dave Cartwright), Best Supporting Actress in a Feature (Shira Barber), Best Score (McCrea was also the film’s composer), Best Production Design/Art Direction and Best Makeup. I would have given it a nomination for Best Visual Effects as well. Sadly, the film did not win any of the named awards.
Chicago Rot is currently on the festival circuit, so if it arrives to a theatre in your neighborhood for a local festival, I implore you to take a gander. However, I will again warn you – it is totally not for everyone.