Director: Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion
Cast: Dave Bautista, Brittany Snow
Plot: Bushwick in New York is attacked by a mysterious military unit, causing two unlikely partners (Bautista, Snow) to make their way through a war-torn city.
When one artistic trend (the found footage movie, the single set story), takes off, every entry feels like a special treat. Blair Witch Project, for example, perfected the genre with a chilling horror tale that felt so real, it unnerved. Paranormal Activity made good use of the sub-genre to make their own financially incredible entry into the horror archives. However, before too long, the trend is copied one too many times and falls into mediocrity. With the amount of movies, both independent and blockbuster, being churned out year after year, it is inevitable. Bushwick marks the fall of the one shot take film. Long tracking shots have been impressing audiences for a while now, sometimes contained to single brilliant moments like the Oldboy corridor battle or Children of Men’s camera being battered around a chaotic battlefield. Then there were the incredible movies that had a single shot lasting the entire running time, like the amazing Victoria or the breath-taking Birdman. It seemed like a genre that could do no wrong. Then we have Bushwick, the film to finally hit the brakes on the success of the one-shot.
Everything about Bushwick is just that little bit lazy. Exactly the same happened with found footage. While certain directors revelled in the limitations of the sub-genre, figuring out how they could cleverly play around with the rules of the formula, there were hundreds of copycat films that saw it as an excuse to rush out an average movie. Hey, of course, it was low budget, because it was a found footage film? Hey, of course, the characters were annoying; it was a teen movie. Expressions like that frustrate me, because I do not see that as an adequate excuse for creating a middling film. Here, the one-shot formula feels like a ‘get-out-of-jail’ free card for the twin directors, Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion. Two minutes after introducing Brittany Snow’s likeable out-of-town student, we are thrown into a hectic firefight on the streets of New York. Because someone decided the best way to tell an one-shot film was to rush into the middle of the action and fill in the gaps later, for a lot of the time, that is as far as story development goes. The plot, for a long time, is essentially: a military unit are shooting people in the street, civilians are seeing this as a chance to loot, no one can be trusted. Therefore, the majority of the film is simply Brittany Snow, and later Dave Bautista, wandering around a street, ducking from unseen assailants and jogging through war zones. For a while, the rush of the unknown is a worthy substitute for real action, but as Milott and Murnion try to justify spending a whole running time, repeating the same trick, you start to get tired of the formula quick. I admit that there will always be moments of the one-shot that are bound to impress. It is a tricky challenge for any cinematographer and certain scenes do dazzle. A cameraman is clearly riding the back of a motorcyclist, hops off mid-shot and still filming, rushes into a firefight to capture the grittiness of a shoot-out. But there are other times when the one-shot technique is used to make life easier for the writers. The fight scenes are predominantly Bautista rugby-tackling someone out of shot and while the camera adjusts, he has allegedly done some damage. When your lead star is an ex-WWE wrestler, mediocre punch-ups feels criminal. Other times, bad guys appear out of nowhere, justified by the craziness of the moment, but the thrills are absent. Then there are moments where the directors just give up using the one shot technique. Bushwick is less one long tracking shot with hidden cuts, but four or five tracking shots stitched together. It feels strangely disappointing, when the directors have a good run of camerawork going (a chase upstairs, a run across a rooftop, a cauterisation), only to then roughly cut to a talking head scene. It feels like a broken promise. It is small moments like that which stop Bushwick from being the cinematic success you feel it is trying to be and more a movie that has bitten off more than it can chew.
There is a good film buried here. When the actual plot is revealed, far too late down the line, it does suggest that there is an interesting debate at the heart of this movie. If only it was more concerned with telling us what the story was, rather than have us chase after red shirts and sit through meaningless jogs across looted shops. The frantic filming style also gives Bautista and Snow very little to do. They crouch behind walls and look either scared or determined. There is not much depth for any of them to hit. Brittany Snow stands out as an actress that is good enough to rise above poor material. In particular scenes, she feels like the only one who bothered to bring any acting to the table. Bautista, as seen in recent years, does have a surprising amount of charisma and acting prowess as a performer, but he is too new to the acting game to survive a script that doesn’t meet him halfway. It means that when the movie hands him a monologue that helps him wow the viewers, he succeeds, but outside of that single moment, he is largely lifeless. He was cast for his bulky physique, which again, isn’t used as much as it should have been. There are a few solid moments in the script as well. The mother of a gang member puts an entire crowd of angry rioters in their place and one particular death comes out of nowhere. That shock alone was almost enough to make me change my mind about the entire film. But as it progressed onwards, especially another shock in the end that was perhaps too “indie film”, I realised that this is the one-shot film on autopilot. Someone wanted to tell a story about a giant shoot-out and thought that not cutting was the best, and probably cheapest way, to do that. I am compelled to be disappointed.
Final Verdict: On paper, it looks terrific, but there is a hollow sensation to Bushwick that is impossible to escape.