In Bushwick, New York City resembles a militaristic wasteland. We’re to believe Texas has formed a Southern pact and is leading a new Civil War in the name of secession. It’s a scary reality that brings to light recent current events driven by unjust animosity. A made-up Brooklyn invasion and actual Dallas sniper shooting are horrifyingly similar topics, so you’d think Nick Damici and Graham Reznick’s script would be fueled by warnings, or anger, or revelations. You’d think there’d be something more to raging fires and black-suited militants. You would think – but that’s not the case. Crumbling skylines and Red-Dawn-meets-Purge vibes can only get you so far.
Events kickstart when Lucy (Brittany Snow) arrives in Bushwick with her presumed boyfriend (Arturo Castro). As they walk the subway platform, all train usage is suspended; their station oddly empty. Mr. Boyfriend goes above ground to take a peek, and before he can even take two steps, dies by explosion. Lucy is horrified, but realizes very quickly that New York City is under attack and she must act quick to survive. Armored squads litter the streets, killing and capturing Brooklynites while Lucy sneaks with caution. How is a meak little girl to stay alive? By teaming up with a burly janitor who has plans of escaping to Hoboken. Enter Stupe (Dave Bautista).
Bushwick is a front-to-back survival thriller that kicks in and never stops. The minute Lucy exists her G train, action has already begun. We don’t know it because we’re currently underground, but then a flaming civilian descends upon the station entrance and chaos ensues. Directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott establish an inescapable helplessness given such little information, while cinematographer Lyle Vincent hides minor edits with the feel of a continuous shot. Lucy is constantly seeking refuge, the camera running to catch up as she busts into apartments or ducks into alleyways. Always hurtling forward, inexplicable dangers barricaded around every corner. Techniques are clever and transitions fluid. As a Brooklyn resident, I felt my streets burning around me – but struggled to find the source of fury.
Damici and Reznick obviously have something to say. Something about man being its own worst enemy, or political tensions rooting all evils. This is a modern day North-against-South after all, but then tensions step a great deal further when a foot soldier explains resistance wasn’t expected. “It wasn’t supposed to be this hard,” because Bushwick’s large population of ethnic diversity should have meant less weaponry. WRONG. Bushwick was supposed to be an easy grab. Leverage for bartering. Instead, it’s a painfully obvious message that minorities can – and will – fight back, with intent fumbled in the most hamfisted way. Gang-bangers take hostages, Hasidic Jews form shotgun gangs, teens brandish pistols for looting – lawlessness reigns supreme.
A main point of confusion comes from the lack of a General or shot-caller. Surface motivations are barely articulated by an interrogated Kentucky boy who gets body slammed by Stupe. “We were just following orders,” aka “Make America great again” – but it’s such an empty threat. We don’t get WHY numerous states would sacrifice millions for personal gain, and a charismatic leader might have helped draw conclusions. Some might argue that leadership doesn’t matter because Bushwick is about Lucy’s survival, but I disagree. As is, there’s no reason for tomahawk missiles to destroy ice cream trucks or Brooklyn natives to defend their streets with athletic equipment. Never escaping everything we want to change about our current political/social landscape.
Performance wise, Brittany Snow plays her part well – a fashionable white female who represents coming gentrification. First skittish like a wounded deer, but then empowered as a rebel leader. How does she find such courage you might ask? Dave Bautista, her ex-Marine medic turned janitor bodyguard. Bautista imparts survival wisdom and reluctantly helps Snow search for living family members, which are their best moments. Their worst? Snow interacting with her beyond-obnoxious sister or Bautista’s final soul-searching monologue. Stitching bloody gashes or ducking into cover, Snow and Bautista are pushed to the brink. Alone? Nothing more than basic cable dramatics.
Murnion and Milott’s Bushwick feels like a John Carpenter film without the societal skewering. A nasty, hate-filled movie with shaky detailing. Texas’ tactical strike is nothing but an excuse for hood stereotypes to remind preppy Caucasian girls “they don’t belong” and bring out the worst in people – which isn’t Damici or Reznick’s desired intent. I believe? Hard to tell since there’s never a handle on characters or motivation. Momentary thrills are inescapable, just like the abusive nothingness that powers an otherwise fiery American siege. Always violent, never stating why. The American way (apparently).
Bushwick sets New York City ablaze but never tells us why, leaving viewers with nothing but street violence and an empty hopelessness.