USA (USA/Cuba) 2004 : Miguel COYULA : 82 mins
Of the 40 features I saw at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, Red Cockroaches was hands-down the worst. In fact, I’d have no hesitation in placing it in my all-time bottom half-dozen from hell, alongside the sadly unforgettable likes of Lilja 4-Ever and True Blue. Not only do I never want to see it again, I never again want to see anything written or directed by Miguel Coyula, who happened to be in attendance at the screening in Edinburgh, the film’s European premiere. When he was introduced at the end the audience applauded. Speeding towards the exit, I paused long enough to turn and stick out my tongue.
In retrospect, I should have stayed put and participated in the Q+A. First question “Can I have my money back?” Or perhaps I should have just waited till the applause died down and shouted “Shame!” or “Boooooo!” But I just couldn’t wait to get out of the cinema and get myself as far away from Coyula’s ordure as possible. My next screening was a brisk ten minutes’ walk away at the UGC, but my mood was so sour I honestly felt like I didn’t want to see any more movies that day. Perhaps ever. As it turned out, Pearls and Pigs instantly renewed my faith in cinema – after Red Cockroaches, I did speculate whether movies should have been invented at all. I could, of course, have walked out – and did seriously consider doing so. But I was horribly transfixed, morbidly curious to see just how terrible the picture could possibly turn out to be.
Why such an extreme reaction? Well, like Lilja 4-Ever, Red Cockroaches takes a serious, sensitive subject and handles it with a bludgeoning clumsiness that is truly, sickeningly offensive. And the subject here is incest. New York, the near future. Adam (Adam Plotch) is a putupon, pudgy, balding bloke in his thirties. Struggling to cope with everyday life, he encounters an enigmatic young woman (Talia Rubel). They have a passionate affair. Then she reveals that she is in fact the sister he thought had been killed in a car-crash many years before. Crass complications ensue, including a sex-scene in which the odious Adam lubricates his member, for no particular good reason, with tomato ketchup.
Almost everything about this film is wildly irritating. The performances are unspeakably lousy, the dialogue stilted and clunky, the characters relentlessly grating, the pacing so rubbish that 82 minutes feels like a life-sentence. But what’s really annoying is that Coyula (who’s responsible for production, direction, script, editing, cinematography and score) isn’t untalented. On a reported budget of $2,000 (two thousand dollars!) he achieves some remarkable visual effects, rendering a mildly futuristic, dystopian Manhattan no less convincing than the megalopolises seen in megabudget Hollywood pictures like I, Robot. And the transitions between scenes are often striking, original, stylish. But these positive aspects count for absolutely nothing, placed as they are at the service of a screenplay that is such thuddingly repellent bilge.
10th September, 2004
(seen 28th August : Cameo Edinburgh : public show – Edinburgh Film Festival)
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Click here for the Diorama of Dishonour – films rated 1/10 and 2/20
by Neil Young