By Keri O’Shea
I like to go into film screenings knowing as little as possible, which makes the internet a nightmare on many occasions – but, being familiar with director Adam Mason’s other films, I thought I had a reasonable idea of what to expect from his most recent film, Junkie. It was bound to be a horror movie, right? Stacked with disorder, grime, warped families or relationships, and warped mental states? Well, yes and no. Junkie does have all of those elements in abundance. However, it soon dawned on me that it was no horror movie. It flirts with horror on several occasions, sure, and it never settles comfortably into one genre or another, but to my complete surprise, the best description you could create for Junkie would be ‘deeply bleak black comedy’.
Whatever my initial surprise might have been – I kept expecting pure horror to break out during the first thirty minutes or so – I was engrossed from the outset by the main characters and their dismal situation. Meet Danny (Daniel Louis Rivas) and Nicky (Robert LaSardo), two friends living in what’s left of Danny’s old family home and each nursing a serious smack addiction. But although life is rolling tranquilly forward in a fug of heroin and missing hours, guess what? Danny decides that he cannot live like this any more, and he wants to quit for good. Thing is, when he breaks this news to Nicky, not only is Nicky disbelieving but he plain won’t take Danny’s ‘no’ for an answer, insisting that he procures him one last hit. For the sake of some peace and quiet Danny reluctantly agrees, but what follows initiates a day of absolute chaos for them both. Nicky is, it seems, now running this show – but he promises that everything will be okay…
Wow. This is one deranged, surreal piece of work. Having discovered through speaking to Mason and Boyes about the writing process that each of them would fling more and more bizarre scenarios back at the other, I can categorically say that I’m not surprised, as the film rapidly goes from the ridiculous to the sublime and then back again. I enjoyed being challenged in this way, and wondering what the hell was going to happen next; obviously, this sort of approach isn’t going to be for everyone, and if you want conventional storytelling then forget it, but if you like being made to reconsider what works in cinema and why, then Junkie stands apart as an ambitious, risky project – though because of its ambition, it does take a little while to get into the rhythm of the film. Of course, none of this would have worked without a deft, darkly comic script (which manages to be naturalistic in scenarios which are definitively not naturalistic) and magnetic performances from the film’s small cast. The interplay between LaSardo and Rivas is sparky and engaging, and supporting roles from Tess Panzer and Mason/Boyes regular Andrew Howard add further alternating layers of humanity and WTFery to proceedings. Rivas’ intense turn as Danny does something else pretty special, considering the situations in which his character finds himself; it makes you empathise with him. Danny is a vulnerable fuck-up, a damaged individual trying to feel his way back to normality whilst being perpetually waylaid by Nicky, the heavily-tattooed devil on his shoulder who just will not let him be.
So, just to clarify: this is a film which features blood, bodies, hallucination, hookers and heavy drug use. Its characters run the gamut of human emotions in increasingly unpleasant situations. For many, these aren’t plot devices which they’d automatically associate with comedy, I’m betting, but provided your sense of humour veers towards the bleak, then you will laugh here; sometimes your hand might be clamped to your mouth in a ‘should I be finding this funny?’ way, but that all adds to the overall charm. You may well spot a ‘plot twist’ – assuming that it’s meant to be one at all – fairly early on, but the substance of the film just makes it feel like part and parcel of the version of addiction we get here, in all its delirious detail. That detail is embellished by this being a great-looking film. Mason and Boyes have a superb eye for locations and this film is no exception, as the house (in which nearly all of the film takes place) strikes a fine balance between high kitsch and ugly deterioration, all of which looks great refracted through a razor-sharp, vibrant palate. In fact the house works perfectly with the plot itself; it too has a semblance of normality which is giving way round the edges, and then some.
Junkie is grotesque to its core, but it has humanity. It’s nasty and in many ways an unfriendly film, but it will still make you laugh, almost in spite of yourself. As such, it should be clear that this is a film which refuses to satisfy generic expectations, something which is a boon and also a curse for those who like to know what to expect from their ninety minutes. Personally, I think we should all test ourselves with film from time to time, and Junkie proves that it doesn’t necessarily have to be through watching ever more grisly fare. Junkie won’t allow you to sit comfortably, but it just might teach you the value of filmmakers unafraid to take risks whilst having some seriously warped fun with their ideas.
For further information on how you can see the movie, check out the film’s official site.