Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

A low budget version of ĎSin Cityí? That canít work can it? No, as it turns out, it canít in this instance but with his movie ĎThe Westbrick Murdersí Writer / Producer / Director / Production Manager / Animator / Cinematographer / Editor / Wardrobe Designer / Musical Director / Caterer / Shaun Rana does his damndest to try and make it work. And in the process he gives us an incredibly flawed but also a uniquely creative movie watching experience.

Matthew (Daniell Edwards) is in jail for homicide and he looks like he will be facing the electric chair unless his hot, somewhat disconnected lawyer can help him beat this rap. Who did Matthew kill? Well, therein lays the story.

This mythical town of Westbrick, where it rains all the damn time, houses a pair of Bonnie and Clyde type killers in Billy (Sami Darr) and Barbara (Anna Bard). There doesnít seem to be much rhyme or reason behind the killing spree of this completely psycho pair of lovers, but there they go raining hell on the completely innocent members of the Westbrick society. Matthew, once a promising member of the Westbrick police force, and his grizzled partner Sam (Kim Sonderholm) almost had Billy and Barbara cornered but alas the operation went bad, mainly due to Samís gross incompetence, but a hostage ends up dead, Sam ends up dead, Matthew gets the blame and he is eventually kicked off the force.

But this is only the beginning of Matthewís problems. Apparently Billy and Barbara didnít appreciate getting shot at by Matthew and pay him a little visit. Tragically at the end of the day poor Matthew will be a widower and in an inspired animated sequence the overwhelming majority of the Westbrick police force will be subsequently slaughtered as Billy and Barbara flee the scene. Still, none of this explains why Matthew is in danger of facing the electric chair.

Lost and broken-hearted, Matthew travels back home to the farm to reconnect with his old man (Eric Roberts) who isnít the most sympathetic cat around. Nonetheless, in his own special way, the old man lets his baby boy know what needs to be done. So with nothing left to lose Matthew travels back to Westbrick to exact his revenge on the killers Billy and Barbara, no matter what. He may be just a little too late because itís looking like Billy and Barbara, Barbara at least, is tired of the murdering lifestyle and just wants to settle down to a normal life. Matthew isnít having any of that. And since Matthew isnít going out like a punk, Billy isnít going out like a punk. A showdown is looming.

As ĎWestbrick Murdersí begins with its highly stylized noir cinematography, extreme close-ups, lots of people smoking cigarettes and its animation / stop motion hybrid style, it is a little unwieldy to deal with. Coupled with the fact that I donít think that English is the first language for the majority of the cast, sometimes itís a little difficult to understand what the actors are saying. Take Sam the grizzled cop for instance who speaks his damn near unintelligible English with a mouthful of banana. The attempts at noir styled dialog is hit and miss, more miss than hit on most occasions, plus the story that Rana is telling us is non-linear in fashion, jumping around from here and there which at times can cause the audience to lose their bearing on exactly where they are in this story.

All that being said it will be difficult, if not impossible for me to completely shat on young Mr. Ranaís film because it does have nuts. Big ones. The look, language and narrative style of his movie, as unwieldy as it might be starting out, I think you will eventually adjust to it. Especially since the over abundance of epilepsy inducing flashes and graphical pyrotechnics tend to die down as the movie plays on. Thank goodness. Iím glad that somebody over there knows how to use After Effects and all, but enough already. Around the time Matthew has his conversation with his old man played by E-Rob, in a very well done scene, highlighted by a minimum of fancy graphical effects, ĎWestbrick Murdersí kind of hits a little groove and the story becomes infinitely more interesting to watch. In addition the movie follows its own path as opposed to being some kind of predictable nonsense that we are used to. Itís still nonsense mind you, but itís unpredictable nonsense and given a choice, we choose the latter.

The performances are a mixed bag with leading man Daniell Edwards being serviceable at best, but at least saving his best stuff for the inspired conclusion. Actor Sami Darr was also interesting, if for no other reason than in his choice of dialects in this movie was wavering between all kinds of wacky accents, and for the life of me I canít tell you which region he settled on, but he made for a good bad guy with a little bit of charm to him. And Eric Roberts was Eric Roberts as he tends to give his all no matter what throwaway role heís given and his lone scene was one of the better ones in the movie.

As we said earlier, ĎWestbrick Murdersí is certainly a unique experience. Itís got some issues, debilitating ones at that, but it also has a lot of promise. Amazing what one lone director / writer / effects artist / caterer can do when he sets his mind to it.

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