A lofty but uneven psycho-noir, Kalamity is a genre film whose ambition unfortunately exceeds writer/director James Hausler’s means. Hausler’s third feature is densely overloaded with bulky dialogue. One might immediately think that the director simply refuses to demean his characters with anything less than banter worthy of Paddy Chayefsky, but he is not the second coming of Chayefsky, nor even of Noah Baumbach. Still, he does make good use out of some truly ungainly conversations.
His protagonist’s gob-smackingly massive vocabulary doesn’t really matter in and of itself nor even the lack of imagination Hausler display when it comes to visualizing their internal anguish (flashes of light and sped-up motion photography are especially groan-worthy). Instead, the director sinks or swims depending on how and if he turns his shortcomings into something tantalizing.
Nick Stahl stars in the film as Billy Klepack, one of a pair of rudderless post-grads left leering after their girlfriends have dumped them. Alice (Beau Garrett) quit Billy after he moved back home while Billy’s old best friend Stanley (Jonathan Jackson) is reminded of all the barely sublimated baggage his break-up with Ashley (Alona Tai) left him with. Stanley is therefore Billy’s foil rather than vice versa, a mirror of things to come and of the depths Billy may be capable of sinking to should he continue to obsess over Alice. Ashley is after all missing now and everybody assumes Stanley’s to blame.
Within that generic formula, the polysyllabic barbs that Stanley and Billy continually entangle themselves in start to look more their way of coping with a cruel world. But the fact that everyone, including local gossip Simge (Jill Latiano), can verbally joust so well is decidedly peculiar. But one shouldn’t dismiss that wanton floridness as overzealousness on Hausler’s part. He openly acknowledges his tendency to err on verbosity as a stylistic choice: Billy at one point is talking with his teenage sister Barbie (Sammi Hanratty), now about a decade his junior and marvels with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek: “You’ve got a bigger vocabulary than I do.”
We are so deeply invested in Billy’s head that even Billy doesn’t see it until this point. The film’s clunky but teasingly suggestive finale reminds us that what we’re looking at is an externalized emotional landscape, a memory whose patchiness is, to an extent, a product of a subjective mind. In covering his ass so thoroughly, Hausler’s created a surprisingly sturdy foundation for this otherwise rickety character study.
Kalamity, directed by James M. Hausler, at Village East Cinemas, Runtime: 100 min.