Sundance Film Festival 2016’s Most WTF Movie
If Sundance crowds couldn’t handle Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse, wait ‘til they get a load of the pasty potbellies, bulging man-panties, lard-licking psychotics, and squirmy full frontal sexcapades of The Greasy Strangler—the first true WTF film of 2016.
Father-and-son weirdos in matching turtlenecks and short-shorts lust after the same voluptuous woman. A grease-covered serial killer stalks the seedy streets of Los Angeles wringing necks and snacking on eyeballs. Not to mention more aggressively tumescent dong shots than you’ll ever be able to erase from your brain, not that you ever asked for them in the first place.
Unlike the boy wizard’s Swiss Army Man, which prompted mass exits from the afternoon mainstream hordes earlier in the day at Sundance, The Greasy Strangler makes no pretense to any sort of mass appeal. Then again this genre-bending oddball murder mystery is one long feature-length skin-crawl, a comic exercise in visceral discomfort that’s all the more entertaining if you can check your gag reflex and lean into the ick.
Bizarro plays better at midnight anyway, which is where this feature debut from shorts and commercials veteran Jim Hosking slides perfectly into place. It’s a slimy, grimy, dare of a movie destined for the cult audiences who devoured his oddball Sundance 2010 short Renegades, from which he borrows his own motifs: Pants-averse men who wear knee socks with loafers, an obsession with hot dogs, characters with voracious appetites for food and frantic dancing, and sad weirdo men trapped in fleshy middle age.
Here, Renegades’ Sky Elobar plays a sad middle-aged virgin named Big Brayden who’s trapped in a dysfunctional relationship with his wild-haired and probably sociopathic father, Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels), who may or may not slather himself head to toe in grease at night before wringing the necks of his enemies.
Grotesquely lifelike prosthetic penises? Check. (And check and check and check.) Piles of thick, viscous goo? In spades. The Greasy Strangler even has an inspired impromptu dance sequence that highlights the movie costume of the year: a junk-baring cut out velour disco bodysuit worn by the white-maned Michaels, whose performance is itself a marvel of committed madness.
Think Tim and Eric meets Harmony Korine and you land approximately in the vicinity of The Greasy Strangler, which was exec produced by indie genre madman Tim League and produced by Ant Timpson and Spectrevision trio Elijah Wood, Daniel Noah, and Josh Waller.
“You’re such a gross-out, dad. I think I might barf,” whines Big Brayden as the film opens on the two men, locked in hostile mutual contempt. Big Ronnie gleefully taunts his son in his melodious, rich baritone, his white shoulder hair backlit and glistening in the morning light: “I’m the Greasy Strangler…I’m not the Greasy Strangler.”
The sexual symbolism is most apparent in the lube-obsessed Big Ronnie, whose horniness and thirst for the oiliest and greasiest grease cannot be quenched. The greasy wieners Brayden cooks for him are never greasy enough. Just when it looks like Brayden has finally found happiness, the jealous Ronnie becomes hell-bent on bedding his son’s new girlfriend.
There’s an odd beauty in Hosking’s eye for staging scenes of mundane mayhem, placing his often pantsless actors in meticulously designed palettes—Pepto pink, muted mustard—and set to a warbling electronic Casio score, like an outsider Wes Anderson. In his ad and short film work Hosking racked up an impressive stable of curious unknowns, some of whom pop up again in The Greasy Strangler (see: The Importance of Awards in Advertising: A Talk By M. Villivankk, whose Sam Dissanayake turns up as a hilariously chatty Indian tourist).
The Greasy Strangler’s mystery plot unravels with little actual mystery since the killer’s identity is revealed fairly early on. It detours into noir and even romance thanks to a particularly ballsy turn by Eastbound and Down’s Elizabeth De Razzo, who bares everything as Janet, the frizzy-haired woman who falls for both Brayden and Ronnie’s charms after taking their walking disco tour of Los Angeles.
The film hits comedic highs when Hosking dallies into long, repetitive absurdist moments, like one in which a trio of disgruntled walking tour customers have a conversation about a bag of potato chips, lost in mutual confusion that hits a perfect, mesmeric rhythm. Other joys are simpler: A naked madman screams his way through a car wash in glorious slo-mo; sausages are sensually snarfed; Brayden lies broken-hearted in the street, his bare paunch heaving and gleaming in the moonlight.
The Greasy Strangler’s meandering plot finally comes to a head in soapy fashion after a surfeit of corpulently nude sex scenes. It takes a while to get there, but the film’s even crazier conclusion tips Hosking’s real hand. For all of its genre-jumping insanity and prurient indulgence, it’s really the twisted love story of a father and son searching for common ground to heal their deep-seated emotional wounds. In that regard it’s like a lot of Sundance indies, mining familial bonds for truths about human connection, dysfunction, and healing. It’s the only Sundance offering, however, that achieves all that and more with an arsenal of angry dicks, fart gags, crotch-thrusting disco moves, and vats of the gooey stuff—just the right cup o’ grease for its discerning midnight audience.