This year’s Unnamed Footage Festival got off to a hilariously satirical start with Gillian Wallace Horvat’s I Blame Society. With laughs, meta filmmaking and some disturbing violence, this feature debut from Horvat promises a bright future for her writing and directing in the horror genre.
Described by in-film studio executives as “weird Frances Ha,” it truly is a perfect blend of social satire, dry humor and female angst from a film like Frances Ha and disturbing realism and conversation-based horror like Creep.
The film started off with a real life compliment to the director that she would make a good murderer. She took this compliment and made a short with it that she describes as a “Herzogian non-fiction-narrative hybrid documentary short” which she abandoned for years until picking it back up again after her producers encouraged her to make a feature out of it.
This mockumentary within a mockumentary is led by the director/writer Horvat, playing herself as a disgruntled filmmaker with squashed potential. Following a compliment from a friend that she would make a good murderer, she sets off to make a fun, yet directionless documentary on her musing with her friends how she would commit hypothetical murders.
This immediately backfires on her as she jokes about murdering her best friend Chase’s (Chase Williamson, co-writer of the film with Horvat) girlfriend, whom she calls Stalin, as they have a strained relationship. Even though she’s pursuing a fictional idea, she cannot help but put her own personal biases (against Stalin) in her art, causing Chase to stop talking to her.
She experiences constant rejection and uncomfortable situations as a budding filmmaker in Hollywood, especially because her ideas are unconventionally dark and lack a “strong female lead.” She goes to a job interview and her interviewers (Lucas Kavner and Morgan Krantz) tell her that instead of working on her own projects, they want her to look over men’s projects, to make sure they have enough “girl power” and other superficial virtue-signaling in them.
She tries to share her frustrations with her boyfriend (Keith Poulson), who further belittles her passion and anger. Not that some of it isn’t earned: at one point she tries to secretly film him performing sexual acts on her, before he finds out and leaves angrily.
This all comes to a head after she experiences a personal tragedy. Where this had been a comedic yet pointed critique at the film community up to this point, the film takes a sharp turn. This shift is noted by Horvat, with her stating “maybe a makeup sequence would lighten things up.”
From this point on, Horvat blurs the boundary of how far a filmmaker should go to complete their art. Instead of planning murders, she gets a bit more… active in the making of her film. And as Horvat becomes more methodical in her murdering, she thus becomes more methodical in her filmmaking and adds more elements like lighting and music, pushing her further into her movie.
And yet, while this gets dark, the comedic thread is never broken. Horvat remains throughout as a charismatic, witty psychopath intent on fulfilling her passion project.
Amongst other things including Hollywood at large, Horvat seems to be taking aim at filmmakers who will do anything for a shot, including abusing (or in this case, killing) their actors and crew. While she is very relatable throughout the film, she’s definitely not a perfect character and leans into making herself look like a vengeful, bitter and desperate filmmaker with unhealthy coping mechanisms. Her acting is perfect for the level of sarcastic humor with dark tinges throughout the film and the script is spot on.
The film can be a bit too bare bones at times, especially in the beginning, but it contains such a refreshingly original story, both metatextual and hilarious, that it’s forgivable.
As the film is heavily dialogue based, it fits into the category of “mumblecore” that became popular around the mid-2000s with films like the aforementioned Frances Ha and Creep as well as V/H/S or You’re Next. Horror movies that fit into this category are adorably referred to as “mumblegore” films. So welcome to that club, Horvat.
Horvat very hilariously fixes the “found footage problem” (why are they still filming?) by marking herself as a filmmaker, and therefore always pulling out a second and third camera that she had hidden, or wearing a goofy GoPro to get all her angles.
None of the characters were particularly likeable in this (outside of Horvat’s humor) but it was appropriate for a story being told as a social critique.
Horvat seems to threaten the audience: if women aren’t allowed to create horror films and murder people brutally in film, maybe they’ll take it to the real world instead.
I Blame Society is available on VOD platforms. Check out the trailer below.