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The Rambler | Review

Aimlessly Devoted To You: Reeder Culls More Stars and Less Sense for Sophomore Film

Calvin Lee Reeder The Rambler PosterMore proof that horror as a genre has been hedged out of midnight movie programming in favor of meandering strangeness is The Rambler, the sophomore feature of Calvin Lee Reeder. Rather than expanding on the mindf*ck bizarro-world shtick that characterized his polarizing 2011 debut, The Oregonian, Reeder seems more eager than ever to agitate, confound, and blow through our conditioned notions of film narrative. Fans of his first film can rejoice, but the rest of us should be praying for the return of David Lynch. Films by directors such as Reeder, who is obviously influenced by the likes of the grand master himself, only highlight how genius someone like Lynch is at making the grisly and bizarre as compelling as it is incomprehensible.

A man known as the Rambler (Dermot Mulroney) is recently released from prison, his sentence and his crime unknown to us. He returns home to a small town trailer park where his old job at the pawn shop, his uncultured brothers and ungrateful girlfriend, Cheryl (Natasha Lyonne), lay in wait for him. Cheryl becomes upset that her man doesn’t seem interested in sex in the kitchen before breakfast one morning, so she kicks him out and the Rambler takes to the road. His plan is to join his brother on his horse farm in Oregon, but on the way there he meets a mad scientist (James Cady), a man convinced he has discovered how to translate dreams onto VHS tapes. Except, when he attaches his dream contraption, people’s heads tend to explode. Then there’s a character known as The Girl (Lindsay Pulsipher), who shows up to gallivant and interact with the Rambler wherever he tends to show up, and a cab driver that’s convinced the film Frankenstein should be remade exactly as it is in color.

While Lynch’s films tends to lean towards impenetrability, one can often put together a rough composite of what they’ve just consumed. Both of Reeder’s films, while starting off with a certain level of intriguing perversity, fail to sustain any sort of interest and often feel like thoughts achieved by intoxicated minds are simply being hurled towards us at random. Nothing seems to make sense and there’s not enough care generated to expend energy deciphering what may have been the grand scheme of the secretive Rambler.

One had hoped that The Oregonian simply suffered the earmarks of an intriguing new voice whose pretensions would be fettered in his next venture. To be fair, the first few minutes of The Rambler are extremely propitious, especially with the little white trash world we’re enveloped in with camp queen Natasha Lyonne, here in a role that seems handcrafted for Susan Tyrell. But as soon as we hit the road and suffer one gloppy weirdo moment after the other, interest retires, and not even Dermot Mulroney in man-with-no-name mode can save it. In his defense, Mulroney remains a likeable screen presence throughout, and he can add this to a quickly growing list of admirable projects he’s been part of recently, but Reeder’s film sells him short.

Reviewed on January 23rd at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival – MIDNIGHT Programme.
97 Min.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.


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