SXSW Review: Bad Fever (2011)
Note: This post contains a portion of a review originally written for GordonAndTheWhale. To read the full review, click here.
If there’s anything a festival like SXSW can prove, it’s that sometimes the best movies are the ones nobody is talking about. In between the premieres and the parties, amidst the latest mumblecore sensations and post-Sundance critical darlings, sometimes it’s possible to find something that catches you completely by surprise and leaves you wondering, “Why haven’t I heard about this?”
Bad Fever is such a film.
The reason you haven’t heard about this film is that it is an independent venture in every sense of the word. Unlike most of the other films that played at this year’s festival, there was no marketing blitz sent to press, no official release screaming, “See my movie! Review it!” There was no information given beyond a two-sentence synopsis in the program that inspired more questions than it provided answers. As of the time of this writing, it doesn’t even have a publicist – the director, Dustin Guy Defa, is handling pretty much everything related to the film himself. It’s the kind of project that SXSW was originally made for: a self-funded, self-publicized film born out of the blood, sweat, and tears of a small group of dedicated cast and crew. It’s also, in its own weird little way, kind of a masterpiece.
Bad Fever is a challenging, haunting piece of filmmaking that feels like it comes from a very personal place while exploring universal themes of loneliness and desolation. It’s the kind of movie that Hollywood used to make in the 1970s before the invention of the summer blockbuster and the even more recent catering to fanboy fantasies. Its protagonist is deeply unhappy. The relationships explored are doomed at best, and dangerous as worst. And most of all, there is an intense feeling of desperation infused in every frame, as if the director, much like his protagonist, is struggling to figure out just what exactly we are and hoping a creative outlet might provide an answer. It is a film shot in sorrow, a raw and uncompromising look at the crippling effect social isolation can have on those who buy into the American Dream, and a work of socially conscious filmmaking that asks: if all that’s needed for success and fulfillment is our own individual effort, why are we so damn unhappy on our own?