2023 | unrated (R equivalent) | starring Anne Ramsey, Ron Rains, Larry Fessenden, Jeremy Holm, Ezra Buzzington | directed by Ted Geoghegan | 1h 32m |
On the 2023 release schedule, Peter Thorwarth’s fun Blood & Gold (which we may look at later) ends with the death of Adolf Hitler and the end of World War II’ European Theater. Ted Geoghegan’s Brooklyn 45 picks up with a similar radio broadcast announcing the death of Hitler and end of WWII. Movie’s have over-covered WWII with such minute detail they can line up directly with each other to make one continuous million hour World War II super-movie.
Brooklyn 45 is a single-location chamber film in which a group of WWII veterans meet over a Christmas eve dinner led by their friend Hockstatter (Larry Fessenden). Grieving the suicide of his wife, Hockstatter requests his guests – interrogator Maria (Anne Ramsey, Mad About You), her desk clerk husband Bob (Ron Rains, the actor behind The Onion’s hilarious Peter Rosenthal film critic character), General DiFranco (Ezra Buzzington) and Major Stanton (Jeremy Holm) – to help perform a séance and contact his late wife. The evening unfolds in revelations, paranoia and even spirits.
At a slim 92 minutes, Brooklyn 45 is still an exhausting watch. It spends almost every moment pulling artificial levers to move the events forward into a story. We are immediately introduced to our core group of five friends. The cast has no chemistry but know they’re friends because they constantly tell us they are. It’s unclear why they are even there on this night when Hockstatter proposes the séance and everyone is surprised by the request. In our first unnecessary piece of contrived drama, everyone in the room objects to this, instead of just helping out a friend in need. This artificial drama stifles the creation of a mood or the character relationships which would have benefited the rest of the movie. Soon any potential tension to the existence fo ghosts is burst and we’re in Margery Crandon-level séance territory featuring possessions and an ecto-plasm hand. What follows is both real and supernatural and the movie bounces between the worst Twilight Zone impulses. It is both cheesy and pompous, the two worst things you want in your horror film.
The look, tone and style of the film don’t match the content. The modern look and feel of it pulled me out of Brooklyn as a period piece – as did the modern openness of Stanton. It’s the script of a 5-handed stage play and it isn’t shot like one either. There are a few unique hooks in this story that a stylist could have latched onto and explored to create an interesting visual style for the movie. Geoghegan shoots it like any old thing.
The last 3 quarters of the film are 5 people trying to get out of a locked room in which one person is holding the key. The movie features an American-German immigrant and the group’s needlessly shifting paranoia over whether she is a Nazi spy. And this is a problem with message-driven movies. We all know from the very beginning of the conflict that there is no way the immigrant will actually turn out to be a Nazi, because the characters have to lecture each other to not judge another by someone’s accent or nationality. The General dressed in full-military fatigue on Christmas Eve is going to be our villain. This representation message is more important to the film than telling an unpredictable story.
As the paranoid melodrama ratchets up, the tension sure doesn’t. Characters demand to know if a character that clearly isn’t a Nazi isn’t a Nazi and do so against their own stated respect for the expertise of those in the room – the war experiences of the major, the interrogation skills of Maria. Brooklyn 45 isn’t offensive, and I’m sure to see something dumber or more torturous this year. I’m certainly not against a low budget chamber film. But it’s shocking step back for Geoghegan, whose Mohawk was decent and more traditional ghost story We Are Still Here flirts with cult wonders. No, Brooklyn 45 tries to cram a lot into a small box. Commentary about xenophobia and the figurative ghosts that haunt men after war. I get it – the real ghosts are the ones we carry with ourselves – but this on-the-nose metaphor can’t carry a film that is fumbling the most basic elements of filmmaking. This is a story in search of a medium, better served as a play or a short story, but Geoghegan doesn’t put together anything here that justifies it’s existence as a film. One of the worst movies of the year.