Making its world debut at Fright Fest, David Buchanan’s Laguna Ave is being billed as “Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man through the lens of John Waters”. Lofty praise for a debut film, but one that is not without merit. Wearing its heart on its filthy sleeve, Laguna Ave is certainly a wild trip!
What Is It About?
“Dealing with the trials and tribulations of a disaffected former musician with a prosthetic hand who gets drawn into the mysterious and sinister world of his downstairs neighbor, LAGUNA AVE perfectly captures a paranoid Los Angeles where no one can be trusted, everything is decaying or coming apart at the seams and being held together with celluloid duct tape.”
An impeccable comedic timing matched with a eccentric casts of characters, Laguna Ave feels set for cult status. The humor is perfectly balanced between obvious gags to subtle quips. It is trashy, but not low-brow and there is considerable content packed in, making it perfect for revisiting to indulge in laugh out loud moments or giggle at the nuanced gags. As a comedy that pays homage to the greats, like John Waters, the film lands its jokes with panache.
The performances across the board are ramped up to their most hammy and over-expressive. Russel Steinberg, as Russel, is the ideal comedic slacker who carries a self-assured persona, unaware of how callous and lazy he can be. Likely to be a fan favorite, James Markham Hall Jr. plays mad scientist Gary, a disgraced employee of a mega tech corp. In response to being outed, Gary decides to make himself a super cyborg in order to combat the evil corporate overlords that has subjected him to gang stalking. Immensely paranoid but so damn convinced of his own delusions, Gary brings Russel into the fold through his insane theories with absurd, boisterous delivery. Overall, everyone oozes a weird charisma proving absolutely compelling – performances flawlessly fine tuned to hit every comedic beat. A noteworthy example is a drug dealer upstairs delivering an MDMA enema to the French neighbor who wants to explore the jungles to count the amount of ape shit.
Making the most of the budget, the use of music and simple effects help to sell the idea of a grandiose conspiracy closing in around Russel. In particular, the delusions of Russel as a tech god offers a sense of surreal style that gives the film an engaging visual flair. Make no mistake, it is still lovable low-budget trash, but with a shiny veneer to provide a wonderfully trippy audio/visual experience.
What Did Not Work?
Absurdist micro-budget comedies with trashy humor and sci-fi elements won’t be for everyone. For what it is, the film is perfectly executed, but that does not mean it will hold a universal appeal, this is niche cinema meant for a certain brand of deviants who lap this stuff up.
The tag of “Tetsuo meets Waters” hints at the films utilizing surrealism and trashy humor, but such comparison feels slightly off. Arguably, a more apt connection can be made to the works of Jon Moritsugu or Gregg Araki, whose comedy focuses on eccentricities light on one-liners and deploys sci-fi surrealism to inject absurdist comedy. Fans of the previously mentioned directors will find David Buchanan and Paul Papadeas debut film a darkly comedic delight – showcasing enough originality to not just be a copy and paste of the established cult icons.
Embrace the madness within! Laguna Ave is a demented vision of budgeted cyberpunk, paranoid frenzy and comedic surrealism. An easy highlight of this FrightFest 2021!
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