Bad Turn Worse is that not-so-rare beast in filmmaking – an idea which had everything going for it, and yet it came up just a little short. It is the type of movie that does well at a genre festival because audiences are more primed to like certain movies, especially when they feature a good looking cast and look (and sound) like they deserve the praise that is heaped upon them. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad movie. A lot of filmmakers have been feted for making far worse than this. Co-directors Simon and Zeke Hawkins, and screenwriter Dutch Southern, don’t need to be ashamed of their effort, but I wonder if they’ve managed any soul searching that explains what prevented Bad Turn Worse from becoming an indie classic.
Let’s start with the plot: three high school friends in a small Texas town are looking to the future. Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) and Sue (Mackenzie Davis) are going away to college but B.J. (Logan Huffman) is staying put. The awkward thing about the situation is that Sue is B.J.’s girlfriend. And to show his friends a good time before college separates them, B.J. stole some money. Well not quite some money, he stole twenty thousand dollars. And he stole it from Giff (Mark Pellegrino) a crook who doesn’t take a lenient view of things when he discovers the theft. He decides that Bobby and B.J. and Sue (since she partook in the spending of the stolen money) can repay him by robbing a bigger criminal named Big Red, who just so happens to be Giff’s boss.
Messy, right? But it could work.
So what went wrong?
The movie looks great, and it sounds good, and the cast is good looking enough to catch and hold our attention. Mr. Pellegrino in particular takes to his role with great relish. But there are problems. For one, the dialogue is a little too self-aware for its own good. And because the movie lacks that je ne sais quoi it ceases to achieve a state of the Coenesque and instead pushes the needle towards wannabe Tarantino. Same goes for the B.J.-Sue-Bobby dynamic. It is clear that Sue is the type of girl both guys would be attracted to — for different reasons of course — but there is just something about the way all the drama unfolds that makes it super difficult to suspend disbelief.
And that ending! It is just too pat. I could see the hand of the writer way too clearly. It harks back to what one of the characters say towards the beginning of the movie, but in a largely unimaginative way. Powerful words are said and there is one genuinely arresting scene en route to the denouement, but by the time the end credits rolled I was left with the feeling that I’d eaten a cake that hadn’t been baked right enough. Which is a shame.