PLOT: Years after causing a fire that burned his parents alive and left his sister marred for life, an alcoholic epileptic brings his pregnant girlfriend to meet what's left of his family.
REVIEW: Brusquely shifting gears from his two previous horror features - the gorily overt slasher EXCISION and cheekily satirical haunt SUBURBAN GOTHIC - writer/director Richard Bates Jr. is back with the aptly titled flaming heap of garbage that is TRASH FIRE...an odious revenge tale whose only discernible demerit is committing to film quite possibly the most despicable and deplorable collection of characters one might recall. Ever. I honestly can't believe the level of abusive vitriolic invective spewed about in this movie, one ostensibly feigning as a horrific comedy of poor manners. What I can believe is how the resulting lack of any sort of vested sympathy or redeemability disallows for even a modicum of empathic fright. If we don't care about the people depicted, why would we ever care what happens to them? In the end, we don't. TRASH FIRE neither remotely scary nor very funny, it's just ugly and unnecessarily unpleasant!
Owen (Adrien Grenier) is a depressive, epileptic, alcoholic prick who admits in the first scene to his somnolent therapist to having suicidal tendencies. His plan, since a child, was to take his own life as soon as his parents died. We then learn Owen accidentally killed his parents years prior by misusing a propane tank that ended up exploding and burning his mother and father alive while leaving his younger sister Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord) with 80% of her body covered in third degree burns. Owen's home-life is far cooler. His frigid, fed-up girlfriend Isabel (Angela Trimbur) of 3 years is at her wits end. He drinks too much, shows little affection, jabs and barbs her with verbal abuse (which she reciprocates), suffers mouth-foaming seizures we can only presume are due to epilepsy. In short, this dude is a real winner. Advised by the same therapist who fell asleep during his last session, Owen decides to take Isabel to his grandma's house in order to get closure with his sister and begin life anew. What could go wrong, right?
Everything. Old granny Violet (Fionnula Flanagan) is a real piece of work. Deeply devout, she just about detests every avenue of vice imaginable. Well, not counting her own masturbation to a fiery sermon on TV (best part of the film mind you, which speaks volumes). She berates her grandson, calls his wife a two-bit whore, allows both to believe it was indeed Owen who lit the blaze that took his parents life and forever scarred his sister Pearl. We learn otherwise however. Soon Owen comes face to face with his charred-up sister, who despite requiring visitors to wear a blindfold upon entering her room, still has the gorgeous bone-structure of AnnaLynne McCord under some unconvincing makeup. Sure a few welts and wrinkles appear, but she's hardly as hideous looking as she and her entire family speak and act. Both blaming God and seeking his strength, Pearl is a delusional shut-in who spends her days boarded up in her room, quoting scripture, fondling dolls and the like. It becomes quite obvious a major reckoning between her and her brother must equate to a showdown in the final act, and when it does, we ought to be glad nothing else transpires beyond it.
Look, I'm all for scathingly dark, wittingly cynical humor to punctuate the horror in any one movie. And honestly, in the first few minutes of TRASH FIRE, I indulged in a few chuckles myself. But it never lets up. The nastiness persists far past the point of being funny, past the point of tolerant novelty, far beyond the point of any sort of entertaining shock value. And perhaps most damning, no redemption can be had after these characters establish just how cruel and indecent they truly are. People who, without filter, bluntly bark aloud the worst things they can possibly think. Never mind redemption, not a morsel of concern can be expressed about anyone involved in the story. As you might imagine, this is a serious problem when the horror hits. I like Adrien Grenier well enough, always have (CECIL B. DEMENTED yo), and think what he lacks to be a great actor he makes up for with inherent charm and charisma. But if this is the only kinds of starring work he can get after his Entourage run, that'd be a bit worrisome.
It gives me no real pleasure to say that TRASH FIRE is indeed a smoldering bin of bilge, but it largely is. The plot and character motivations are monotonously mean-spirited, done in a way that cannot offer enough horror to atone itself, or at least make us forget about how terrible said motives actually are. The technical aspects are passable enough, including the acting and minus the makeup, but the so-called horror elements give us nothing we haven't seen before. For a movie whose plot and title are so dependent on a raging source of heat and light, the result is ironically dark, distant and ice-cold. Do wise and go re-watch STREET TRASH instead!