Acne (2005)

Acne review! (click to see it bigger)Starring Tracey Hayes, Rusty Nails, Jim Darley, Mary Luckritz

Written and Directed by Rusty Nails

Before you ask, yes. His real name is Rusty Nails. It’s a bit of a misnomer when you consider that his stylistic chops are anything but rusty. Don’t let this introduction sway your expectations the wrong way about what his feature debut Acne is. What it means is that you’ll get to see how a little can go a long way with a good imagination behind it.

Acne is the tale of Franny and Zoe, two teenagers who, along with others, become afflicted with heinous skullcap-sized zits on the tops of their heads. These ain’t just your ordinary mirror spurters either; they cause delirium, hallucinations, confusion, and they tend to burst forth their pusy contents at the most inopportune moments. The only way to quell the ooze is to enrich the plukes with greasy food and sugary candy bars applied transdermally (i.e., absorbed through the skin rather than eaten). And, just for an added bonus, the zits also make you toss up white foamy stuff on a semi-regular basis.

It would appear a corrupt industrial waste incident has contaminated the water supply, and that’s the root cause of these woeful whiteheads. Of course, this disaster is hardly a top priority for the government and powers that be. Who cares about the health problems of a bunch of no good teen troublemakers? It’d be better just to wipe them off the face of the earth. Yet, there is the option of finding a way to profit from the demise until the zit-teens eventually succumb to whatever deathly fate the affliction will lead to… A plan of morbid exploitation is hatched, and the rest you’ll have to see for yourself.

So the context is teen angst and corporate/military corruption and exploitation. The teens in this film are pushed to the fringe of society because of their grotesque appearance, and they ultimately must resort to theft in order to keep their soon-to-be-grapefruit-sized-blackheads nourished. The narrative parallels to Charles Burns’ Black Hole comic series are quite strong, but we heard from a good source (Rusty himself) that this was merely a coincidence.

One great thing about this film is its pace. Nails apparently doesn’t care much for filler scenes, which is good, as they’re so often the undoing of super low budget works. Every scene in this film is watchable for different reasons. Some are funny on purpose, some are funny because of their DIY charm, and many are genuinely odd. The cumulative effect is not so much a film with an obvious incline and climax – I found that there was a flow to Acne that keeps your attention throughout minus all the usual peaks and valleys.

Acne review! (click to see it bigger)Shooting this on 16mm black & white film was a really good idea. A lot of it takes place in exteriors, and Nails chose bleak and textured environments that allowed the grain of the film to give Acne desolate character. His aesthetic choices with the camera are great too – there are many parts that could be lifted from Acne and presented to someone who hadn’t seen the film as clips from a movie made back in the 50’s or 60’s.

The art direction is lacking in some places, and sometimes the cheapness is a bit distracting, but that’s where the excellent pace of the film works to Acne‘s benefit. Before you can get hung up on some detail or other, you’re into the next scene and on your way.

The incidental soundtrack music is well suited to the throwback feel of this film; it’s reminiscent in places of Gene Moore’s eerie score for Carnival of Souls. There are plenty of other well-placed tracks in here as well by the likes of The Dead Kennedys, Devo, Alice Donut, and Lunachicks. On the DVD there are a few music vids that Rusty directed thrown in for a bonus along with a highly amusing short film called “Santiago vs. Wigface.”

Before I finish, I should reiterate: This is a low budget movie! I am not apologizing for it by pointing this out; I’m praising it for doing so well with so little. Don’t go into this looking for Keanu Reeves spin-kicking his boot into Bruce Willis’ stupid looking bald head whilst plunging into a blazing city inside a malfunctioning helicopter (although there is a helicopter scene in Acne, so maybe that’s not the best example). Part of the reason I liked this movie is because it never tried to be something that it’s not. This film shows that perhaps the biggest shortcoming of all is looking like you’re trying to overcome a shortcoming. Rusty gets away with it because he does the opposite, and as a viewer you never (well, rarely) notice. And the style is there – give this man some money, and I bet you’ll see a really great looking film.

Speaking of which, if you’re a George Romero fan, do support Acne by picking up a copy of the DVD or ordering one here. Rusty’s next project is a documentary about the life and work of George A. Romero, which you can read more about right here. I’ve seen a 20-minute teaser, and let’s just say that you fanboys out there are going to be quite amused with the range of famous and familiar faces who step up to the plate in praise of George A. Keep Rusty Nails rollin’ and you’ll be seeing this project sooner.

3 1/2 out of 5

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Jon Condit