Auteur Theory: Volume 4
A true independent filmmaker, Douglas Buck’s short films have made him a recognizable name in the festival circuit. Beginning his filmmaking career in the early 90s, shooting his films on Long Island, Buck pretty quickly managed to build up a following. His films meld gore-based horror with harrowing stories of American tragedy, and attract a jumble of gore hounds and film snobs. His work speaks equally to both audiences, detailing blood and violence alongside delicate meditation on human nature and reaction to horrifying circumstances, all contained in suburban households.
His first three films, Cutting Moments, Home, and Prologue, have been compiled into a trilogy titled Family Portraits. The three films have a distinct air of low budget horror, yet it is not a very common horror in movies, it is a domestic one. The grainy bleakness of 16mm makes them feel visually raw, and long static shots supplement the disquieting content. The DVD cover of Family Portraits features a positive quote from Gaspar Noé, which, for those familiar with Noé’s work, functions almost as a guarantee that the viewer is going to be disturbed. The films are brief analyses of the failure of the American family via a collection of psychopaths mirroring and distorting the inability to live up to what society regards as the ideal life. They impact the viewer through a violence that can be seen as metaphorical to more commonplace breakdowns, but hit as hard as reality despite. A man slaughtering his family is an extremity, but interpreting the footage as the breakdown of the family is inescapable.
The trilogy begins with Cutting Moments, the most popular, which many view as the pinnacle of Buck’s work. Cutting Moments was made whilst Buck was enrolled at The New School in New York City, giving him access to the school’s equipment. Herein we find the most blatant use of gore, as the majority of this ten minute short features a housewife disfiguring her own body after succumbing to the desperation she feels in her marriage, and being unable to cope with her husband’s molestation of their son. These themes are subtle, and the blood is loud and upsetting. It is difficult to view and even the most well versed patrons of shock horror will be challenged, and most likely, thrilled. It is both excellent and painful.
Home acts as a good segue between the first and final of the trilogy, albeit the easiest to consume of the bunch. And lastly, Prologue is the most ambitious and artistically, the most successful.
Prologue clocks in as the longest portion of Family Portraits, at a running time of a few minutes short of an hour. Here, instead of being contained in a single home, we have a story that is spread over an entire town. It begins with a young woman returning to the place she grew up after losing both of her hands and now living with two mechanical hooks in their place (like a deranged Best Years of Our Lives!). In tandem with this, the audience is introduced to an elderly artist and his wife, whose marriage is failing with the absence of their daughter. From here it is slowly and elegantly revealed how a tremendous act of violence connects the two and the entire town. For the first time there is nothing graphic on screen, but Prologue still disturbs as if everything awful has been shown. Prologue also features a brief cameo from Independent horror figure Larry Fessenden, who Buck formed a friendship with after having their films screened together at a festival.
After Family Portraits, it is not surprising Douglas Buck was able to attract some even more established actors like Chloë Sevigny and Stephen Rea to act in his first feature, Sisters. Sisters was not Buck’s ideal first feature. This was a screenplay entitled Body Faith that he had pitched to French production company, The Wild Bunch. Body Faith would have continued the themes of Family Portraits quite clearly, but a series of financial disasters with the studio ended up plummeting the project into limbo for the unforeseeable future. Instead, years after Prologue, Buck returned with an attempt at a more mainstream venture with Sisters.
Buck is teeming with ideas and has a vivid grasp on cinematic theory, which is why Sisters is so surprising. Sisters is nowhere near a great movie. The real failure is in the fact that it’s a remake of Brian De Palma’s 1973 film of the same title, which is an exceptional film. There are a few interesting moments, but all in all it boils down to a very lackluster retelling of De Palma’s Sisters, that never surpasses the original from any aspect. The acting is extremely bland, and structurally it is so straightforward that very little suspense manages to build up. The result is just boredom. The film grows increasingly ludicrous as it goes on, becoming illogical and delving into inappropriate campiness at times. The ending is altered from the original, and I can’t quite determine why, as it does nothing but take away from the story. But there is atmosphere in certain sequences, and the way the film discusses and displays mental illness definitely sets it apart from other horror films, at least until the ending. The voice that spoke through Buck’s previous work still lingers in Sisters, but is muffled by the film’s slowness and mediocrity.
Most recently, Buck spent some time shooting a 35mm teaser for his next project, The Broken Imago, an eco-horror, man versus nature film about the planet fighting back against humanity with a virus that brutally kills adults, while children appear to be adapting. Only a teaser has been shot as the project is still in need of investors, but it is quite a bizarre teaser. I saw it screened in Toronto a few months ago with JT Petty’s The Burrowers, and I was completely caught off guard by it, which is actually the event that led me to be writing this article. Let’s hope investors pop up real soon, because I’m sure this will be extremely interesting once it gets into production.
Check it out at the website for the production company Buck is working with: http://www.metalunaproductions.com/