Cary Murnion, Jonathan Milott
Brittany Snow (Lucy), Dave Bautista (Stupe), Angelic Zambrana (Belinda)
A Second Civil War
"Texas is seceding from the United States. By the order of the Fathers of the New American Coalition we are a united force with the goal of establishing an independent nation, free from government tyranny and the right to live our lives the true American way." - Solider
Every era of history is reflected in the popular culture of the time. This is especially true of American history and American cinema. The 50s were paranoid and foreboding beneath a veneer of wholesomness, the 60s were weird and experimental, the 70s were angry and rebellious, the 80s were about excess, the 90s were back to being angry and rebellious, the 00s were cynical and snide, the '10s were self-parodizing and hopeful. We're still in the '10s but the meter is rolling over into the '20s and that sense of hope is galvanizing into a weird sort of rebellious cynicism that lays out hopeless scenarios and then presents a hopeful feeling in spite of that.
Bushwick is a bit of a disaster movie but in reality it's a war movie. It posits the very plausible-seeming concept that the south may in fact rise again and stage a military coup of the United States to ensure the ratification of their secession from the greater United States (Texas is the only seceding state mentioned in the movie but it's implied that more may follow.) We enter the movie with Lucy (Brittany Snow) who is playing a sort of living representation of that Vanessa Carlton song.
Lucy is bringing her boyfriend to her childhood home in Bushwick, Brooklyn to meet her family. Unfortunately they walk out of the subway station into a war zone, Lucy's boyfriend is killed almost instantly and she's left to flee into the city to find help and safety. She stumbles onto the home of Stupe (Dave Bautista), a janitor who shows a great deal of calm in dealing with the situation at hand. Lucy follows Stupe as they try to escape the city.
I suppose I should apologize up front, I just spoiled a major plot point of Bushwick. The reason for the military invasion is not elaborated on until about 2/3 of the way through the movie when Stupe captures and interrogates an enemy soldier. Up until this point we're left to wonder why any of this is happening. It turns out that Bushwick was seen as a good place to do a quickie invasion to set up a green zone to assist with the invasion of Manhattan. (The film mentions that these sort of military invasions are happening in many major cities throughout the country.)
So why Bushwick? Because the Intel gatherers for New American Coalition are dumb racists who think the ethnodiversity of Brooklyn and the fact that guns are illegal in New York city and its boroughs will make it a soft target. The people of Bushwick are bringing the fight back to the invading army and making their job very difficult to do.
For Stupe and Lucy, their entire goal is to get to an evacuation point where the U.S. Military is carrying out civilians by helicopter but a Coalition blockade is standing in their way, so the only way to get through is to fight and nowhere in Bushwick is safe for long as squads of soldiers patrol the streets and break into every building they come across.
The set-up is equal parts Red Dawn and Miracle Mile with some of the frantic post-9/11 confusion and chaos we saw in Cloverfield and Steven Spielberg's The War of the Worlds. The film follows in the cinematic footsteps of Children of Men in that everything after the opening sequence (with the exception of two quick cuts to the inside and underside of a helicopter) is made to look like one long uninterrupted cut. We follow Lucy from the subway station at the beginning of the movie to the evacuation point at the end as though we're there with her. In this way the film most resembles Cloverfield's found-footage style if T.J. Miller's character Hud had been a better camera operator, completely silent, and a passive observer in the film's action.
The Red Dawn parallel is pretty apparent as well, except instead of a group of kids from a small conservative town besieged by Russians we're dealing with the multi-cultural citizenry of a working class neighborhood in New York besieged by right-wing nationalists. The message is no less alarmist but Bushwick's populist idealism is a lot more attractive than Red Dawn's machismo-driven jingoism.
The film is directed by Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott, the director duo who previously brought us the somewhat entertaining tonal fiasco Cooties. Where that movie fell apart was in the writing by Leigh Whannell (not a writer of comedy) and Ian Brennan (not funny) and a subject matter that was just a little too dark to be as funny as it needed to be (Ian Brennan's terrible jokes also did the movie no favors.) This time the script comes from Nick Damici (of Stake Land and Mulberry St.) and Graham Reznick (writer of the video game Until Dawn and one of the writer directors of Chilling Visions: Five States of Fear.) Nick Damici's influence is all over the movie, one could even see him playing the character of Stupe under different circumstances. Without the need to be funny, MIlot and Murnion can do the one thing they did best on Cooties and make a movie that's tense, shocking, and frightening and lacks all the grown-worthy attempts at comedy.
The lead duo has an excellent chemistry. I'm still not quite sold on the idea of Dave Bautista as an actor. The few times I saw him in his career as a wrestler came with a realization that in a profession filled with bad actors he was perhaps the worst of all. His time in film has been considerably better than his time in the ring but he stills has that raspy sort-of-yelling wrestler's delivery and his line readings are somehow stiff and exaggerated at the same time. That said I admire Bautista's commitment to finding solid projects to propel his career instead of dipping into the shitty action-vehicle quagmire that has claimed so many wrestlers-turned-actors.
Spoilers follow until the next picture so skip ahead if you want to remain in the dark. My only big gripe is that the movie goes unnecessarily dark in the final act. Stupe delivers a soulful life story, horribly telegraphing his death only to go "whelp, I've gotta piss" and showing an uncharacteristic lack of caution as he throws open a bathroom door and gets shot down by a scared woman with a pistol. Lucy similarly takes a bullet to the head in the film's final moments as she casts away her bulletproof shield and stands up in the middle of a firefight to drag her wounded(?) sister to safety. I'm not saying that the movie shouldn't kill off the main characters but their deaths don't feel earned from a narrative standpoint, there's not even any real value in them as a shock moment to pile another shovelful of atrocity on top of the pile that is every other event in this movie. The moments were Lucy and Stupe get wounded have a lot more emotional impact than either character's death and that's a big failure on the part of the film.
Bushwick is a great movie, it's tense and unsettling and large and scope even though its budget shows in a few sequences. It's a great disaster-thriller holding a mirror on Trump-era American and a solid action/war/horror film in its own right. Give it a watch.
Next Time on Doomsday Reels:
"When the power source cuts out and that blaster of yours turns into a shiny black stick, what are you gonna do with it then?"