– By Dave Dubrow
Justyn Ah Chong and Matthew D Ward’s WICHITA is the indie film horror fans hope to see when they check out a new title, but rarely get to. A dragging segment of pacing here and a writing misstep there keep it from genius, but it does achieve brilliance, which is pretty darned close.
The plot’s familiarity keeps the viewer anchored to the story, even when the events spin out of control: the writing team of a failing children’s show is sent to a remote retreat to write 30 episodes in 30 days. Things go to pot when Jeb, the show’s creator, cracks under the enormous strain. Rather than explain how it happens, I’ll simply encourage you to see this movie for yourself.
Trevor Peterson as Jeb initially comes off as a kind of bush-league Misha Collins (who is himself a bit bush-league, let’s face it), but he invests such a strange likability in the role that, despite all the horrible stuff that happens, you still want things to turn out okay for him. He’s awkward, twitchy, and vulnerable, but he has a manipulative, sinister side that makes him as frightening a villain as you’ll see outside of Mads Mikkelsen’s turn as Hannibal Lecter. The movie wisely puts him in just about every scene, even when he’s spying on the writers, which tends to normalize some pretty unacceptable behavior. He’s not good, he’s not the good guy, but he is the protagonist and there’s no movie without him.
The other cast members play somewhat stock roles, most of which are unlikable. There’s the Recovering Alcoholic, the Annoying Dudebro, the Grandmotherly Lady, the Fragile Girl, etc. The Hollywood producers, Jeb’s bosses, provide early laughs in their stereotypically hostile attitudes. The least likable character in the film was Raven, the newest writer on the fictional show: she had a hostile, eye-rolling attitude from her earliest scenes that made you want her to be victimized. Perhaps that was the point.
There’s a segment in the last third of the movie that didn’t work as well, taking us away from the closed-in environment of the retreat. It was a bit unnecessary, added too much to the runtime, and didn’t offer a lot in the way of thrills. Featuring everyone’s favorite horror trope, the Crazy Mom Made Crazier by Christianity, it just didn’t fit.
Still, one overlong segment doesn’t ruin a film, and there’s a whole lot to like about Wichita. Some parts will make you laugh, some will get you squirming, and a few might have you averting your eyes. Whatever your reaction, you’ll definitely have a good time with this film.