There’s a voice over at the beginning of Crave that had me squirming in my seat. Aiden is a crime scene photographer, and he’s at a brutal murder thinking to himself how he should be out there helping people, stopping things like this, being active. It’s flat and silly and sounds like someone’s bad idea of what a noir voice over should be.
It turns out that’s on purpose. Aiden is an ineffectual dweeb who lives largely in his head, and we soon realize the voice over is just a part of the fantasy world he’s created for himself (also in this fantasy world: Bill Gates giving him a billion dollars for technology that can, from orbit, fry morally bad people). Aiden shuffles through the mean streets of Detroit, imagining himself taking charge and bloodying the creeps and crooks and assholes he meets, but he always ends up backing down, staying meek, saying the wrong things. He has elaborate scenarios in his brain - smashing a guy’s head with a sledgehammer, putting bullets in the knees of a subway harasser, splattering the brains of a mugger - but they never come to pass.
But the violence keeps taking a central role in his life, and Aiden acquires a gun and then begins acquiring targets. Along the way he meets his cute next door neighbor and, emboldened by his own fantasies, actually starts an affair with her. As his life seems to improve his trajectory veers more and more towards a real outburst.
Crave is darkly comic, a funny Taxi Driver for the soy milk set. Aiden, played with affable goofiness by Josh Lawson, isn’t exactly a hero but he’s identifiable. We’ve all played out unspoken conversations in our heads, we’ve all imagined ourselves as the heroes of our own movies, we’ve all traced the outline of an elaborate revenge against those who have wronged us in some usually small way.
His only friend is Ron Perlman, playing a tough cop who is also his AA sponsor. Their relationship is funny, and Perlman sinks his teeth into being gruff and delivering aphorisms with broad theatricality. Emma Lung plays his neighbor, the object of first his affection and then his obsession, and she’s incredible. Not only beautiful, Lung walks a tight rope as a character who could be hateful, but she lets us understand what at first seems like fickleness.
The script by director Charles de Lauzirika and Robert Lawton, handles tone adeptly. The film veers into seriously dark territory, but it always undercuts that with some excellent humor. The comedy is never slapstick or silly, and is always based in character, and serves only as a release valve for the film’s tension, not as a mockery. That’s a helluva trick to pull off, but Lauzirika does it masterfully - surprising for a first time feature director. Lauzirika also has an excellent eye, and he gets every penny out of what was surely a small budget. He plays Aiden's fantasies totally serious and deadpan, so that you're never sure if what you're seeing is real or imagined (although a scene where Bill Gates shows up with bags of money does tip its hand).
Crave is a touch long in its current form, but Lauzirika has created such rich characters you’re okay with the length. He’s also shot the struggling city of Detroit wonderfully; instead of trying to pretend it’s some generic city he lets Detroit be Detroit, and I think the city’s decline mirrors Aiden in a lot of ways. Detroit today is almost like a dream of a city, as real as Aiden’s fantasy violence. There’s emptiness and loneliness and, at the heart of it all, a real danger.
Crave makes a joke about Falling Down at one point, and in a lot of ways Aiden is a hyper-ineffectual D-Fens. But where Schumacher’s movie is morally troubling, Lauzirika knows just what Aiden is - a sad, desperate joke with an ultimately depressing punchline. An excellent and assured directorial debut, Crave is the sort of smart, thoughtful, bloody and funny movie for which genre fans wait patiently year after year.