Review: Bad Turn Worse

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: Three Texas teens are coerced into ripping off a local syndicate when one of them foolishly steals $20,000 from a psychotic local gangster (Mark Pellegrino).

REVIEW: While movies like BOYHOOD, BIRDMAN or the latest Marvel blockbusters will probably get the lion’s share of press as far as what kind of year 2014 was for movies, one thing that’s been overlooked is how absolutely rock-solid it’s been for indie thrillers. Movies like COLD IN JULY, THE GUEST, and BLUE RUIN have quietly come along to kick everyone’s ass and prove that in these days of “digital cinema” there’s still plenty of room for seedy, old-fashioned noir-tinged tales.

Add BAD TURN WORSE to the list above. The feature debut of Simon & Zeke Hawkins, and written by the awesomely named Dutch Southern, this is a gritty little piece of southern noir. Set at summer’s end, BAD TURN WORSE is the story of two Texas teens, Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) and Sue (Mackenzie Davis) who are about to leave for college, but get into a whole heap of trouble first, thanks to Sue’s crook boyfriend, B.J (Logan Huffman). Ostensibly wanting to show his friends a good time before they leave – but really jealous of the obvious attraction going between then – B.J foolishly steals twenty grand from his boss, which he spends on booze and drugs, and is reckless to the point that he casually leaves $2000 on a bar table without a second thought.

As soon as B.J’s boss, the mad-as-a-hatter Giff (Mark Pellegrino) finds out money is missing, he goes on the warpath, and Bobby foolishly takes the blame in order to spare another of Giff’s lackeys, unknowingly implicating Sue. Giff’s plot to square things involves the teens stealing laundered money from a local character named Big Red (a perfect William Devane). It’s supposed to be a cake walk, but as the title suggests, things don’t quite go as expected.

Right from the start, it’s obvious where BAD TURN WORSE’s inspirations lie, with Davis’ Sue telling Bobby all about her favorite author, Jim Thompson – the late king of pulp noir (THE GRIFTERS, AFTER DARK MY SWEET, THE KILLER INSIDE ME). She’s fond of one of his famous quotes, “There are thirty-two ways to write a story, and I've used every one, but there is only one plot – things are not as they seem.” The Hawkins’ have taken that to heart by embracing an old-fashioned low key approach. While it’s bound to stir up memories of movies like BLOOD SIMPLE, even that was a homage to old-school noir at its heart so it’s tough to hold that against them.

Certainly, the directors seem to know their stuff, with Jeremy Allen White (SHAMELESS) making for the perfect everyman noir hero, whose essential honesty and compassion proves to be his undoing. By contrast, Logan Huffman’s B.J is more of a clear red herring, and it maybe stretches believability a tad to think that Bobby and especially Mackenzie Davis’ clever Sue would keep him around for so long. Davis is especially good here, with her seeming like a star on the rise. Her part here is a bit like Frances McDormand’s heroine in BLOOD SIMPLE, being the unknowing catalyst for the action; not that she’s a femme fatale in the least.

Mark Pellegrino, who’s a familiar character actor (CAPOTE, season one of DEXTER) seems to relish being given such a prominent role, and like Davis, this should open a lot of doors for him. He lends the film a whole lot of much-needed menace, although he maintains a certain believable air of fallibility (he’s not as clever as he thinks he is), although he does indeed often succumb to the familiar trope of the “talking villain.” He’s a lot of fun.

While shot on a low budget, like BLUE RUIN and COLD IN JULY, this is drenched in atmosphere, with great location shooting in (according to the IMDB ) Corpus Cristi, Texas, and sharp cinematography by DP Jeff Bierman. Everyone down the line, from the cast to the behind-the-scenes folk, does impressive work and certainly this will help launch a lot of careers. While it’s a low key release, this one comes highly recommended. If you’ve enjoyed any of the indie thrillers name checked above, this is a must see, and a sharp and stylish thriller. Jim Thompson would be proud.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.