Saturday, September 24, 2005

Don't Go in the House (1979) / Broken Flowers (2005)

Would it be fair to compare the 80s horror flick Don't Go In the House to Jim Jarmusch's latest arthouse fare Broken Flowers simply because I watched both in close succession? Probably not, but here goes.

Jarmusch, who began his career with the role of Amos Dade in the Alex Cox masterpiece Straight to Hell (1987), concocts a suburban mystery in the character of Don Johnston (Bill Murray), a tracksuit-clad recluse who learns his youthful wild oats may have reaped him a heretofore unknown son: How did this utterly disconnected guy, who loathes budging from his leather couch, ever function as a Lothario? Murray has found a remarkable second career playing disaffected, disappointed middle-aged men taking life's continued punches with stolid grace. Johnston is silent, subsumed, undoubtedly suffering behind his poker face. He made his money in computers but now doesn't own one, is his chief character note. And he hates when his one friend, Winston, calls him "Don Juan" -- obviously his younger self earned him nothing he now values. Or so he thought.

This rich, sophisticated character is pretty much nothing like the subject (didn't catch his name) of Don't Go In the House, an blunt rip-off of Psycho, sans any of that Tony Perkins pizzazz. See, dude's mother burned him over the stovetop as childhood punishment, so now he keeps the crispy corpses of his female victims, dressed in their Sunday best, in the upstairs drawing room. Basically, this is the kind of movie that makes you want to go outside and stare into the sun for a while, to ensure you'll never see anything like it again.

But. Both those characters are annoyances, treading along with the barest modicum of motive. At least with House, of course it's just a bad movie, with a bad end, case closed. But Flowers has a fascinating set of situations, made maddening because everything is predicated upon the dead singularity of Johnston. He engages with the plot without tangible reason, following travel itineraries provided by a wannabe detective friend in order to interview women from his past. For a character shown as too lethargic to pick up a wineglass, it would have been more believable if he'd just waited at home, maybe a little impatiently, with nothing good to watch on television, for his Prodigal Son to inevitably appear on his doorstep. Johnston even phones home at one point in his quest, literally begging off the coming responsibilities of the story. Which is why, when he finally realizes he's aiming his life in the right direction, it couldn't ring more false; according to everything else in the narrative, that direction wouldn't have ever occurred to him in the first place.

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