And with Silver Bullets I’m done with Joe Swanberg. Swanberg, one of the leaders of the so-called mumblecore movement, has never particularly appealed to me; I liked elements of Hannah Takes The Stairs and, at the time, Kissing On The Mouth felt raw and new. In the years since, though, Swanberg’s style has worn thin, and I could barely make it through Alexander The Last.
But it took Silver Bullets to break me. There’s a lot in the film that would have made me forswear any future Swanberg films, but specifically there is a scene where Swanberg, playing a character who makes shitty looking mumblecore movies that are an excuse to get women naked (which more or less sums up Swanberg’s directorial career thus far) gives a long speech about how he doesn’t like even watching movies, let alone making them, but he keeps on doing it because he doesn’t know what else to do with himself. It’s Swanberg looking out at the audience, explaining to them that he knows his movies aren’t particularly good but that he’s just going to keep cranking them out so long as Sundance and SXSW keep accepting them and fixie-riding douchebags keep watching them.
There’s just something infuriating about having the director making that kind of a statement halfway through a movie that already felt like it was made without a drop of love or inspiration. Except, of course, the inspiration to get lovely young indie actresses naked. Normally I would applaud this, but Swanberg’s films - and especially Silver Bullets - feel like exercises in self-gratification, like the only reason he’s releasing them as movies is because he told everybody that’s what he would do.
I entered Silver Bullets with some hope. This time Swanberg was crossing the world of mumblecore over with the low budget horror scene; Ti West appears in the movie as a director named Ti West, who is making a werewolf film. Low budget maven Larry Fessenden appears as an actor, but what the point of his role is completely escapes me. Still, I liked the idea of these two different indie worlds overlapping (West and Swanberg have known each other for sometime, and Swanberg was in Cabin Fever 2), and it intrigued me what sort of child might be born when mumblecore and lofi horror hit head on.
The child borne of this union turns out to be retarded. And comatose. And deserving of a mercy killing. Once again Swanberg gives in to the worst cliche of mumblecore, which can be summed up as ‘No one can have an interesting conversation.’ The mumblecore aesthetic is supposed to be that of grungy realism; while there might be a script the dialogue is often improv’ed to sound more ‘real.’ In some mumblecore-esque movies this works; I think the Duplass Brothers have found the right balance between realistic and entertaining. But in Swanberg’s films, especially Silver Bullets, we end up with monosyllabic conversations, people talking about nothing important, elliptical references to events that have nothing to do with the film or the story, and generally monotonous silences. If this is how Swanberg thinks people really talk he needs to get a new set of friends.
The werewolf movie leads to jealousy; Swanberg’s girlfriend, the lovely (and of course naked) Kate Lyn Sheil is starring in Ti’s film. Suspecting she’s sleeping with her new director, Swanberg casts her best friend as his girlfriend in his next mumblecore piece of crap, where he proceeds to fuck her on film. Things never exactly rise to the level of interesting. The werewolf stuff feels adrift; I suppose that Swanberg thinks he’s making a metaphorical comparison between the rising jealousy and the beast within myth, but if that’s what he’s doing he fails.
In the end I was left with only one burning question: did Ti West ever get to finish his terrible looking werewolf movie? Ti’s the best thing in Silver Bullets, followed closely by Sheil, who has a really great scene at the end where she’s looking right into the camera and reading a monologue and pretending to cry. Swanberg’s lashing out at the artificiality of the movies or something here, but who cares - she’s beautiful and she has a mesmerizing screen presence. One thing Swanberg’s good at is finding young actresses - Greta Gerwig was his discovery.
Everybody else is terrible, especially Swanberg. Watching him lumbering around the screen, barely emoting, I kept thinking he’s more suited for a Frankenstein film than a werewolf movie. The hatred I felt for him as the film wore on was overwhelming and I honestly wanted Ti West to just show up and kill him. In fact I was making a mental note that if Ti killed Swanberg in the film I would give The Innkeepers a glowing review no matter what (I have not yet seen The Innkeepers, and Ti does not kill anyone in the film).
By the end of Silver Bullets I despaired about cinema as much as Swanberg had in the film. Could this movie have completely ruined my love of film? It was my first screening of SXSW, and I was terrified that it was a sign, an omen, a portent of indie film doom. Thankfully, though, more films followed - many of which were hyper low budget and still excellent, or at the very least intriguing. Swanberg’s tedious, self-indulgent and pointless wankathon didn’t best me. But for the sake of everyone involved I hope that Swanberg looks at his own filmmaking ennui and decides to find a more suitable line of work. Like selling insurance.