Dust Up (2012) – By Roger Carpenter

Jack (Aaron Gaffey) is an ex-soldier haunted by the people he killed during his deployment. During that last firefight, not only did several insurgents lose their lives, but Jack also lost an eye. Now back in the States, he has pledged to live a life of peace. Moving to the wasteland of the desert southeast, he lives alone in a rundown trailer, practices yoga, and visits with his outcast Native American friend, Mo (Devin Barry). What little money he makes is done by being a handyman for the few scattered residents who also live in the desert. One day he is called by Ella (Amber Benson of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) about a plumbing problem. With a drug-addled husband who disappears for weeks at a time, no money, and a new baby, Ella is in desperate straits indeed. Feeling sorry for her, Jack tries to help her with her problems, but he and Mo end up getting entangled with Ella’s husband and the local drug lord whom he owes a large sum of money. Jeremiah Birkett co-stars as Buzz, the psychopathic drug lord with a cruel streak a mile long. Buzz will kill anything that messes with him and now he wants Ella’s home for a new meth lab and he has kidnapped her baby after feeding her husband to his dog. The only thing standing in his way is Jack, who must choose between his sworn life of peace and trying to save Ella and her child through violence.

Dust Up claims to have invented a new genre: the Grindhouse Western. In point of fact, that may be true. This movie has just about everything one might imagine is contained in grindhouse films. There is plenty of over-the-top violence, cannibalism, explosions, drug-induced desert raves, some brief sex and nudity, and even a three-wheeler chase. The film is violent, depraved, racist, and misogynistic–but it’s all done using a perfect blend of black comedy that lightens the impact of what could have been a truly mean-spirited film. These filmmakers created their movie with their collective tongues planted firmly in their cheeks. I’m willing to bet they had just as much fun making this film as I did watching it.

While no doubt the film was shot on a low budget, part of the reason it succeeds so well is the relatively high production value it exhibits. Director Ward Roberts wisely chose to limit his locations to only two or three major sets which allowed him to spend a little extra to make those couple of sets look good. Another reason the film succeeds is because it is populated with solid character actors. Benson may be the only "name" actor, but all the others have long careers in both television and film and are quite experienced, and it shows. Jeremiah Birkett really shines as the crazy drug lord, Buzz, as does Ezra Buzzington in a small part as the racist and downright mean town sheriff who is in cahoots with Buzz.

The special effects range from above average to excellent and there are plenty of effects on display. We have eye wounds, dogs eating a man, and plenty of hugely outlandish squibs. And in an obvious nod to Cannibal Holocaust, the sheriff is spitted and roasted, then planted into the ground with the spit exiting his mouth so the crowd can have something to munch on during the festivities. While there are a couple of CGI-enhanced squibs that are immediately obvious, the one effect that really stands out as low-quality is the explosion and subsequent burning of Buzz’s bar. These shots are not of the quality of the rest of the film, but aside from these few seconds, the film looks very nice.

There will be two audiences for this film: first, the ones who don’t get it, are disgusted by its misogynistic violence and view it as unrealistic, humorless trash; and second, the ones who do get it and who enjoy the outlandish set pieces and dark humor. And if you are one of those who "get it", then you are in for a great ride. Ward Roberts has created a very funny and highly entertaining Grindhouse Western that is well worth a view.

The film is being released by Breaking Glass Pictures on Oct. 26. For more information, see breakingglasspictures.com.