February 21, 2012

Justify My Netflix: Bombay Beach

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Bombay Beach

Today's movie: Bombay Beach, 2011 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix)

Why I added it to my queue: Because despite its super-duper indie-indie status (I mean, c'mon, it doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry), this bizarre documentary about a real-life post-apocalyptic society in far southern California made a number of critics' top-ten lists last year (and won the grand prize at last year's Tribeca Film Festival), which has made me curious about seeing it myself.

The reality: Holy crap! So I guess let me make it clear that at first I wasn't sure if I was even watching a real documentary, but perhaps instead a very cleverly done fictional film about life after an actual nuclear apocalypse; because that's how strange the real community of Bombay Beach, California actually is, an entire prefabricated town that was first established in the 1920s as a seaside resort, after massive flooding along the Colorado River basically filled in an empty prehistoric sea basin now known as the Salton Sea. (And a little trivia: it was this flooding that led to the construction of the most famous dam in America, the Hoover Dam.) Now, though, the entire town has been abandoned for decades, the sea quickly reclaiming the rusting Modernist hotels and boat-shaped restaurants that once lined its edges, and with a population that was once in the thousands now down to less than three hundred; and of those three hundred that are left, most are the scariest, strangest group of Juggalo-loving freaks you will ever see, literal slack-jawed yokels so cartoonishly trashy that they could've been pulled straight from a "Simpsons" episode, living desperate lies of petty crime and alcoholism while squatting in crumbling, mold-covered shacks, most of the citizens even more bizarrely getting around via electric golf carts because even the nearest gas station is still a full twenty miles away. Now add the fact that filmmaker Alma Har'el actually shoots her documentary in a "Diane Arbus meets mumblecore" way, with highly stylized shots that nonetheless mostly just feature these human monsters simply being themselves, edited like a music video and featuring a plethora of great indie-rock songs; and you're left with a disturbing yet easily digestible document of a post-9/11 America that is falling apart at its edges, a thought-provoking and nonjudgmental portrait of one of a growing number of pockets in the US that are literally devolving into utility- and school-free wastelands of lawlessness and Cormac McCarthy nightmares. A movie that I guarantee you won't forget for a long, long time, it comes very strongly recommended to one and all.

Worth your time? Absolutely

Filed by Jason Pettus at 3:10 PM, February 21, 2012. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |