Saturday, May 20, 2006

2006 SF HOLEHEAD—The Hamiltons


What Hitchock's Shadow Of A Doubt did for Santa Rosa, the Butcher Brothers' The Hamiltons has done for Petaluma. But whereas Charlie's uncle was essentially unsympathetic in Shadow Of A Doubt, your heart bleeds for The Hamiltons, this poor little family trying to make ends meat in northern California. Har har.

As the Holehead program notes advise: "The Hamiltons is the twisted tale of a picture-perfect American family. David, Wendell, Darlene and Francis Hamilton are siblings who have recently moved to a quaint town in Northern California. They are struggling to settle in and adjust to the new area, while still grieving the recent (and mysterious) death of their parents. They are hardworking community members; giving to their local charities, attending Town Hall meetings, and always respectful to their neighbors . . . except the ones that end up chained in the basement." There's some talk that a sequel to The Hamiltons—tentatively entitled The Thompsons—will reveal what happened to the parents.

But for now, I admire the polymorphous perversity of The Hamiltons. Its gore is uncomfortably sexy: rape, incest, lesbianism, ménage a tois, and a new bite in some offscreen gay cocksucking. Ouch! All this mixed with the family dysfunction that most of us have come to recognize and love.

The notion that family is a kind of claustrophobic horror is certainly not anything new but is engagingly inflected in The Hamiltons. From the moment Adam and Eve had their first offspring, sibling rivalries have led to one kind of murder or another. But underappreciated elder brother David Hamilton (Samuel Child) really has his hands full stepping into his recently-deceased father's shoes, trying to keep the family together, trying to keep food on the table, while his dark twin siblings—Wendell Hamilton (hunk Joseph McKelheer, the kind of bad boy you want to fuck around with) and Darlene Hamilton (charismatic Mackenzie Firgens, the kind of bad goth girl you want to fuck around with)—thwart his good intentions at every turn, perhaps more comfortable with who they really are than David, who is carrying a double shadow. Meanwhile, Francis (in a striking debut performance by Cory Knauf)—whose narrative voiceovers solicit sympathy and understanding—is going through something of a teen identity crisis, not fitting in at school, and really fed up with his wacko family. Who couldn't relate? His coming-of-age and coming to terms with his family's murderous habits is what makes The Hamiltons wry and edgy.

The Butcher Brothers grew up in San Francisco. They're brothers from different mothers, of course, The Butcher Brothers being "an alter ego for [their] darker material." They're actually Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores, friends of 18 years. They made their first film after finding a damaged camera near a car accident. Their influences include Truffaut, Cronenberg, and Lynch. The Hamiltons is their debut feature film and is returning triumphantly home to Holehead, which is the end of the line for the film's festival circuit. It won the Golden Vision award and $30,000 in distribution funds at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival ("For the most innovative and unique film with an inspiring and groundbreaking vision") and the Jury Award at the Malibu Film Festival and has been picked up by Lions Gate Films, distribution details to follow.

Variety's Robert Koehler reviewed The Hamiltons at the Santa Barbara International. "What appears to be a suburban Donner Party becomes something even more disturbing," Koehler writes and describes "cheeky horror" as the tone "for this archly surreal telling of how a family of peculiar siblings manages to raise themselves without their late parents." Koehler summarizes: "For about as long as it can, The Hamiltons refuses to play by most of the genre rules, and is best experienced as a ghoulish comedic take on the post-modern American family, in which the chain of command is up for grabs."

Don R. Lewis, writing for Film Threat, asserts The Hamiltons is "one of the best indie horror films in a great long while" and claims it separates "the wheat from the chaff" in a market "flooded with self-described B movies that are more like C or D movies." He culls out the Six Feet Under influence which The Butcher Brothers readily admit. David Hamilton, in fact, is consciously named after the character David in the HBO series, just as they both happen to be gay. If I have any exception to the David Hamilton character it's that no self-respecting gay would wear his hair that way. But maybe that's the point? Secrets within secrets never hazard fashion.

In an interview with the Butcher Brothers for The Montecito Journal (unfortunately not available on-line) Guillaume Doane states the obvious: "[W]ithin the next couple years, the Butcher Brothers will likely be a household name at any movie house, synonymous with the Farrelly Brothers, Coen Brothers, or any other bigwig cinema sibling team." Let's hope so. And let's hope they continue to craft horror film mash-ups that mess with your mind.

The Hamiltons will be screening at Holehead on Monday, June 12, 2006, at 7:00 pm and Thursday, June 15, 2006, at 2:30 p.m., both at the Roxie Film Center.