In The Greasy Strangler, disturbed darling of Sundance, director Jim Hosking and writing partner Toby Harvard have gifted us with the year’s weirdest film. Equal parts The Human Centipede, Napoleon Dynamite and the surreal output of children’s network Nickelodeon, The Greasy Strangler‘s closest bedfellow is probably the comedy of Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. Frankly, however, even Tim and Eric’s work looks positively mainstream compared to Hosking’s deranged horror comedy.
The Greasy Strangler concerns the profoundly dysfunctional relationship of father and son Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and Brayden (Sky Elobar), who earn their living providing dubious ‘disco’ tours of their anonymous home town. Brayden hasn’t seen his mother for years, who having absconded with off-screen lover Ricky Prickles, has left Ronnie and Brayden to wallow in their own unfathomable behaviour, including, but not limited to, sporting banana hammocks (and often much less), loudly declaring each other ‘bullshit artists’, and consuming vast quantities of grease.
To make matters worse, Ronnie’s dietary preferences make Brayden suspicious that his father may be the notorious greasy strangler, a revolting monster dripping from head to foot in liquid fat, strangling his victims until their eyeballs pop out from their skulls. Things are complicated with the arrival of Janet (Elizabeth Da Razzo), a temptress almost as strange as Ronnie and Brayden, though perhaps a mite more sympathetic. That sense of sympathy is a welcome reprieve from the relentless weirdness; it’s true to say that often The Greasy Strangler feels like it’s just weird for the sake of being weird, though it undoubtedly gets the high score for hitting that particular mark. Look closely, however, and there are glimmers of depth, humanity, even.
Janet and Brayden’s romance is endearing in its early stages at least, and the horrific, Oedipal rivalry between Brayden and Ronnie is truly sad, begging the question of how two men have come to exist in such co-dependency. Both characters have histories, with Brayden’s maternal abandonment and Ronnie’s boasting of past and imagined glories bringing the two into frequent conflict. Buried under the layers of affectation and wilful repulsiveness there is a horribly tragic story here. It’s just that it’s told through the medium of cartoonish, dada-esque nonsense.
If one criticism really sticks, it is the film’s apparent sophomoric antagonism – it arguably does not have any more depth than the desire to unnerve. Perhaps that’s the point, though. Like the faceless strip malls and broken vending machines of its setting, The Greasy Strangler is the manifestation of Americana’s inescapable shallowness, rendered down and smeared across the screen. Hosting’s film is not for everyone; it is unforgiving and it is relentless. But for those of a certain disposition, The Greasy Strangler offers a great deal of distressing pleasure.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell