Genre movies express and nourish the unconscious thoughts, fears, and desires of their audience. Fans of thrillers or action films first find their morbid curiosities sated and then their dreams of heroism and personal strength. Crave might be the most literally psychological thriller ever made, but calling it such feels disingenuous. It’s an in depth character study of an irrelevant and unnoticed man, an intelligent examination of a doomed tryst, and a thriller–but the film’s propulsion and genre dressings come entirely from its protagonist’s mess of neuroses and self-deceptions.
Primarily, though, Crave is a film about two characters who deeply desire things that they cannot or should not desire. Aiden (Josh Lawson) is a mid-30s crime-scene photographer who is constantly stuck in his head. In frequent voiceover, Aiden invents scenarios, chastises himself, and pleads for greater control–often hilariously. One day he meets Virginia (Emma Lung), a neighboring tenant in his apartment complex, and, after several successfully charming encounters, finds himself winning her over. As Virginia begins to like and have sex with him, Aiden’s outlook and attitude begin to change. His cluttered, rambling thought processes become streamlined and begin to take shape in reality. He confronts a rude woman at a grocery. He begins a clandestine blackmail campaign against a wealthy sociopath. After enduring a robbery at a corner shop, he picks up the ditched gun.
It seems logical, having seen Crave, that somebody ought to make a thriller derived from a character’s uncontrollable desire to live a thriller. But the film goes far deeper than that, shifting genre as the Aiden’s needs require. And while there are a few moments where the comedy shifts too far into farce, the tonal balance in this film is generally marvelous. And much of that success comes from Josh Lawson’s intimate and sympathetic portrayal of Aiden. His character, so deeply self-involved, spends as much energy fretting over passing glances as he does over getting shot at by an enraged hooker. Which makes him a grounding force in a movie with wild and constant shifts of tone and content.
Emma Lung, with significantly less screentime, crafts a vivid character out of a potentially stock role. Occasionally seeming to be a mere sexual catalyst for our hero’s personal awakening, Lung transcends type to make Virginia realistic, sympathetic, and just as broken as Aiden. The relationship Aiden and Virginia form is honest and human, and could only exist with two completely engaged actors. There is an alternate universe where this film is Virginia’s.
Aiden’s friend and AA partner, Pete (Ron Perlman), is an unsurprising highlight providing light noir flourishes and a comic foil for Lawson. The design and sound of the flick are top notch as well, between a tense and driving soundtrack and beautiful location shooting in Detroit. Crave may have some trouble finding a following because of its difficult–and ultimately deeply, deeply flawed–protagonist. His journey is not heroic, but it is earnest and compelling. And so is this film.
Fantastic Fest runs September 20th – 27th.