NoVa, as seen by sociopaths
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, January 21, 2011
Northern Virginia is sometimes considered annoying, especially at rush hour, but it’s rarely seen as ominous. Writer-director James M. Hausler, a Fairfax native, aims to change that perception with “Kalamity,” a dour tale of disappearance and possible murder in the NoVa ’burbs.
Locals may be the ideal viewers for “Kalamity,” since they’re likely to be tickled by seeing such clean, well-lighted places as Dulles International Airport used as locations in a shadowy thriller. Alas, this incongruity is the movie’s most entertaining aspect.
The story begins with the aftermath of a bloody, unexplained incident, accompanied by the voiceover commentary of a seriously bummed-out guy: “I’m not old. But I feel that way sometimes.”
In fact, the two principal characters, Billy (Nick Stahl) and Stan (Jonathan Jackson), look to be in their mid-20s. Longtime pals who share many childhood memories, they now have something else in common: girlfriend problems. Billy has just broken up with Alice (Beau Garrett), and Stan is still hurting from his earlier split with Ashley (Alona Tal).
But the guys can’t really discuss their heartache, because every time Billy mentions Ashley, Stan gets upset. You might even say he flies into a homicidal rage, which is relevant information, since Ashley has been reported missing.
Billy is slow to conclude that Stan has lost it, but then he doesn’t see everything we do. For example, Stan’s ominous (if nonlethal) response to a woman who razzes him at a bar. Once Stan assaults his roommate, Billy begins to understand that something’s wrong. But he doesn’t know the half of it. (He also, like most clueless thriller bystanders, fails to call the cops.)
More skillfully directed than written, “Kalamity’’ is competent yet never startling, either artistically or viscerally. Most of the violence occurs off-screen, and there are more scenes of blood being cleaned up than being spilled. But if Hausler is most interested in the psychology behind the events, his sketches of the guys’ emotional states are neither convincing nor very interesting. Stan is just an angry dude who’s mean to girls, and Billy is a well-meaning dunce who likes to do a little amateur police work on the side.
It might have been helpful to learn what Alice and Ashley ever liked about their exes, but Hausler doesn’t present their viewpoints. The two women appear primarily in flashbacks and fantasy sequences, filtered through Billy and Stan’s banal perceptions of them. (The only girl in the movie who’s allotted any personality is Billy’s prepubescent kid sister, who appears but briefly.) “Women run everything,” Stan whines, but “Kalamity’’ presents Northern Virginia as a (sociopathic) man’s world.
Contains profanity, including sexual references, and some violence.