Jeremy Gardner’s Something Else promises a brisk Florida creature feature, ends up a perfect companion to 2014’s Spring based on romantic tone, and seals all-important sincerity during a 90s-classic karaoke performance. “Slow burn” is the name of Gardner’s multifaceted game, as soulful stagnation festers under southern heat rays that cook up feelings of rural entrapment.
Life is beautiful yet fleeting; incomprehensible magnitude that’s as crushing as it can be spiritually freeing. Tribeca 2019’s most sentimental Midnighter is an ode to seeking answers and finding our paths in the most muddied, bizarre ways possible. Expressions of love, defensive barricades against unknowns beating down our doorsteps, and plenty of emptied bottles of cheap red wine. Something Else is indeed…no pun intended…something else.
Gardner stars as backwoods hunter and bar owner Hank, who’s spent the last decade living a quaint country-boy existence with his sunbeam of joy Abby (Brea Grant). That’s until Abby disappears; ups and leaves with only a note left behind. Hank is heartbroken, confused, and to top it all off, a monster has taken to bashing Hank’s door each night. With no hard evidence, locals such as sheriff Shane (Justin Benson) peg Hank a depressed lunatic – but pooled blood and busted bear traps tell a different story. It’s a folksy dive bar ballad soaked in sorrow and booze, but ultimately, speaks volumes about the human experience despite snarls and gnashing fangs.
In fairness, Something Else isn’t on the creature-attack level as, say, a movie like Feast where beasts are frequently causing chaos. Hank’s paranoid and profound journey is a simmering pot of genre gumbo – equal measurements romantic despair and introspective frustration. Countless scenes are spent watching Hank dwell over the past, wish for something better, but pass another day slugging alcohol and commiserating alone. Those requiring constant excitement instead of long walks through grassy fields where Hank’s coming-to-terms with reality gestates through subtle conversations, be warned. Something Else is more poetic than punishing.
Gardner roots his film’s – and character’s – tender core in cowboy lyrics and twangy acoustic guitar rhythms that score Something Else. Scenes transition like tracks would segue while a vinyl record spins. As Hank blasts unopened “Peanut Noir” bottles with shotgun rounds or cycles through his daily motions of bachelor squalor, musicians sing what the beleaguered homeowner cannot. Hank’s reactions are so instinctively human; to button up tighter but find a voice through others’ artistic expression. His noticeable dishevelment, Christian Stella’s understated cinematography, and the residential dilapidation Hank calls home (his large and empty family estate) paint a melancholy picture. Dare we judge Abby for possibly escaping?
The relationship between “monster hunter” Hank and sunflower-bright Abby boasts such Duplass brothers or Joe Swanberg honesty. Jeremy Gardner and Brea Grant become lost in their characters’ adoration, and agony, and scared-stiff uncertainty. Garner’s emotive personality expresses so much in the way he playfully embraces Grant or continually sips a beer bottle as his partner opens her Pandora’s box of relationship frustrations. Two souls tangled in attraction, bonded by happier memories, stuck craving different slices of life. The vulnerability of restless modern romances put on blast by characters who, to no fault, dream of something more.
So much of Something Else is a one-person fight against metaphorical and physical demons, until Abby’s rawness of desires punches through Hank like a wake-up call. You’ll unpack messages about small-town claustrophobia, the comfortability of routine, and even hints of self-sabotage because that’s easier than change – but fear is good. Hope and dependability and companionship conquer sacrifice. Trust there’s a damn fine reason why Act III swells with warmth upon climatic confrontations.
Complaints are vastly outweighed by thematic command through a genre lens, but there are a few “hiccups” so to speak. Some jarring edits, for instance, cut between speaking characters in a way that interrupts fluid momentum (while other dead-on frames will someday feature on One Perfect Shot’s Twitter feed). Supporting performances can’t always live up to Gardner and Grant’s bar-setting lead (although Benson’s confused dinner party glances and Henry Zebrowski’s motor-mouth redeem). For as ruminating and ponderous Hank’s gazes become, bouts of “slowness” won’t be widely accepted. In other words, actions rarely speak louder than words.
Something Else is a monstrously impassioned love story about commitment, the pursuit of happiness, and reconciliation. It’s a bare-all drama by day, and When Animals (From Another World) Attack hermit’s last stand by night. One’s “boredom” may be another’s deepest cuts, confirmed by a critic who feels so represented by Abby’s dialogue. As Gardner’s beard grows scraggly and wanderlust charms fade into routine, we’re reminded that a decade can pass like a blink. How you spend those days is an individual preference, but we always have a choice. There’s always…something else. Kudos to Gardner for sticking to his expressive themes while *still* paying homage to practical creature designs and love’s metaphorical beastliness. Such a moving, darkened overture to what being alive means on any given day.
Something Else promises monsters but delivers more demons of the human experience variety, as this sweet and sincere creature feature is far more romantically heartfelt than expected.