Hot off the runaway success of their debut, hit zom-com Cooties, Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion have really upped the stakes this time round, stretching another limited budget to all new, if ever-so-slightly wobbly heights, and with uncontrollable violence still very much front and centre.
Bushwick as an idea – a 21st century civil war ignited almost solely by the bible-belt of America, and a metric-tonne of guns — is a borderline genius one. And with both an explosive and very subtly clever script anchoring the whole thing in place (from Stake Land’s Nick Damici and Until Dawn’s Graham Reznick no less), it’s clear that there’s a huge amount of potential here, even from the very first minute alone. What becomes clear very quickly though, is just how technical wretched the finished film actually is.
Surprisingly, Milott and Murnion opt to plug the originality gap with what is essentially a visual gimmick: attempting to stage the entire film, shootouts ’n’ all, in one, excessively long, single take. The key word here being ‘attempt’ because of course it ends up as more Birdman than Victoria, with the pair digitally stitching together a series of elongated oners with the most heavy-handed editing imaginable.
The film blasts along, from set piece to set piece at a breakneck pace, and Lyle Vincent’s camera often struggles to keep up, substituting clever transitions with some very dodgy digital patchwork, and constant close-ups of concrete steps and/or people’s shoes. It’s borderline calamitous, a constant distraction from an otherwise well-strung story, and comes off as one of the most accidentally irritating departures from convention in recent memory.
It’s a crying shame that Bushwick looks as bad as it does, because the actual content here is worthy of a lot more praise. The set-up itself is, as mentioned, unique and beautifully simple; Damici and Reznick’s real-time approach adds a brilliant sense of urgency to things, and although relatively small in what it actually shows, there’s some seriously lofty ambitions rattling around amongst the woodwork here. Not to mention one of Dave Bautista’s finest performances this side of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
The former wrestler-turned-action hero has very quickly (and rather surprisingly) proven himself to be one of the most emotionally complex of the new guard of muscle-men, not only bringing the pain to his enemies, but bringing a significant amount of depth and understanding to each of his characters too.
Here his ex-military man Stupe is very much a classic Rambo-type on the surface, but in bringing his now trademark warmth and genuine humour to the role, Bautista makes himself so much more than just a switch-your-brain-off caricature. There’s a real, honest human being underneath all the musclebound stand-offs and head-on gun battles, and like a proper acting pro, Bautista doesn’t ever let us forget that, even if his character’s arc isn’t always completely up to scratch.
Plenty of odd scenes end up feeling much too dark, and stand at ends with an otherwise totally playful tone, and the third act finale, although well built-up and terrifically choreographed with just the right level of mayhem, really suffers from a couple of bold character twists, that rip away any real sense of catharsis.
By the time it finally pulls to a close, Bushwick just leaves you wishing that it were better than it ultimately is. Too many dodgy effects and a painfully mishandled central gimmick, leave it looking much too amateurish, and despite housing a truly tremendous turn from one of the action genre’s most promising new talents, the film itself just really can’t keep up with him.
There’s so much potential here; whispers of something much, much bigger than the visually mangled 90 minutes we’re eventually left with. Give it a bigger budget, a longer running time, or even just some more carefully approached camerawork, and Bushwick could be one of the finest indie action hits of the year. Instead, as it stands, it’s just a cheap-looking experiment gone wrong.
Bushwick was screened as part of Sundance London Film Festival 2017.