Plastic (2010) – By Cary Conley

It’s the hottest day of the year and yet another woman–a pretty young waitress–has gone missing. Meanwhile, Darryl and his wife Kate are suffering because their air conditioner is broken. Not only is it broken, but Darryl has been out of work for a while, so they have no money for repairs. And to make matters worse, their neighbor, Albert, has a "sewage" problem that is stinking up the entire area. On the other side of town, Michael is stuck in a bad marriage, has an overbearing father-in-law he hates, and is working a dead-end job as a probation officer. He deals drugs on the side, and to make matters even worse, his mistress is about to give him some very bad news, along with an ultimatum. The new film Plastic details the lives of these people and how they cross each others’ paths.

From the beginning, the film doesn’t try to hide the fact that Albert is a serial killer who collects bodies like others collect trading cards. He wraps them in plastic (hence the title of the film) and leaves them lying around his house. Occasionally, he dismembers the bodies and even cannibalizes the corpses when he’s hungry. But Albert isn’t very hygienic, and in the terrible summer heat, the corpses have begun to rot and are really starting to smell. This raises the ire of Darryl, who seems like a petty, mean-spirited man in the first place; the fact that he’s lost his job, his air conditioning, and is close to losing his house, too, means he’s really on the edge and looking for trouble.

Darryl directs his anger towards his neighbor Albert and the horrific stench next door. Unable to open his windows or even mow his lawn, he verbally attacks Albert time and again, threatening to call the police. Albert is also occasionally visited by his parole officer, Michael, who is also offended by the smell and insists on conducting their business outside on the front porch. Like Darryl, Michael is distracted by all the things going wrong in his life as well, so he fails to investigate the stench, instead opting to believe Albert’s story of a sewage problem. Will the young waitress, bound and stashed in the bathtub in Albert’s bathroom, escape before she is killed? Will Michael focus on his job enough to enter Albert’s house and discover the young woman? Will Darryl finally drive Albert to attack him? All of these questions are answered in this low-budget horror drama.

Writer/director Jose Gomez, a relative newcomer to the film scene, has made a handful of shorts and one previous feature before jumping in to helm this $50,000 film. While his resume may not be long, Gomez proves to be an excellent technical director. I enjoyed the cinematography very much. Gomez uses dozens of interesting angles and tracking shots to keep the viewer interested in the film. My favorite shot comes early on when the camera follows a young woman jogging through town. As the jogger crosses paths with someone on the sidewalk, the camera switches direction to follow this new character, only to switch direction again to focus on a third character. This is a fun shot and is an old Hitchcock trick. I’m not sure if Gomez was influenced by Hitchcock, but he does a terrific job with this sequence and the film as a whole.

The music is another high point of the film. The music suits the film perfectly, never intrudes upon the viewing experience, and is suitably creepy in just the right places. I truly enjoyed this aspect of the film. And while Plastic isn’t filled with over-the-top gore effects, it takes first prize in Most Disgusting Bathtub category. There have been plenty of old houses and nasty rooms in dozens of horror films I’ve seen over the years (think Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Rest Stop, and the Wrong Turn series), but Albert’s bathroom takes the cake. There are some other very good (and fairly gross) effects as well, particularly when Albert decides he needs to clean the bathtub and when he decides he needs a snack. These brief scenes are made all the more powerful as they are used to punctuate what is depicted as a very typical and quiet middle-class neighborhood. Albert’s home is actually quite nice, and he functions in the "real" world, holding down a decent job, even if he’s not exactly friendly with the other employees. The grass is green, the flowers are blooming, the exterior of the house seems new; so, when Albert is shown, for example eating a hand like the leg of a chicken, it becomes even more shocking.

This is a good example of quality, low-budget filmmaking. Of course, there are always some problems when money is scarce. The story is solid, but I would have liked to have known what pushed Albert to become a serial killer. There is no real background given, we just know that Albert lives alone, among his corpses. Why is he this way? What pushed him to become a killer? Gomez misses out on the chance to examine what could have been a fascinating back story for the killer.

Some of the acting isn’t great, but this comes with low-budget territory. North Roberts stars as Albert and gives a suitably creepy performance. I couldn’t help but think of Ed Gein, who also lived amongst corpses and body parts, but was considered a harmless if quirky character in town. The suburban setting also reminded me of Gacy, who himself was a serial killer in suburbia. North Roberts even resembles Gacy a bit; he is a large, hulking man with an unshaven face, and Gacy was rather large as well. The film claims to be based on a true story, so I wonder if Gomez took his cues from either of these real-life serial killers. Christian Gray also stars as Darryl, Albert’s cranky, nosy neighbor who keeps pushing Albert closer to the edge. Gray does a fine job of creating an angry and hateful man with a huge persecution complex. There are few characters on film less likable than Darryl, and Gomez does a good job of using the dynamics between these two characters to build tension. Will Darryl push Albert to finally crack and completely break with reality? Will this cause the waitress’ death, or will Darryl get his comeuppance?

A typical problem with low-budget films is sound, which is notoriously difficult to nail down properly. I found I had to continually adjust the volume as different characters spoke in order to hear some while keeping others from blasting out of the speakers. It wasn’t as pronounced as in many other films, but it can be a bit tiring constantly holding onto the remote and trying to adjust the volume level.

Overall, Plastic is a decent little thriller with a nice balance of thrills and drama. Gomez is currently in post-production for his third feature, and I look forward to seeing his development as a director. More information about Plastic can be found at www.fppifilms.com.