BAMCinemaFest Review: 'Hellaware'

To make jokes about rural Insane Clown Posse-esque rock/rappers is shooting fish in a barrel. To make jokes about the Brooklyn art scene is shooting fish in a pint glass with an assault rifle. And yet Michael M. Bilandic's microbudget indie “Hellaware,” a story which skewers both groups, manages to be a funny, albeit slight success by reigning in the buffoonery and keeping the whole affair extremely deadpan. This is a wafer thin movie, but there isn't a scene in its brisk 75 minute runtime that isn't developing its central characters in an almost surreptitious manner. No one is asking you to take the movie too seriously, but it is a rather sly affair, slipping in some genuine food for thought amongst its snickering.

Nate (Keith Poulson) is a would-be art photographer facing the brick wall of post-grad life. His girlfriend (Kate Lyn Sheil) just dumped him for a slobby dude with pigtails who somehow manages to sell his wretched, infantile art. Nate licks his wounds with his friends, throwing away quips that a director with less assurance than Bilandic would be milking for maximum but inappropriate effect.

While putzing around the apartment with his best pals (Sophia Takal and an African-American actor whose name I can't find in the press notes or the Internet, but is playing a character obsessed with the 90s while dressed like Dwayne Wayne) Nate happens upon a self-produced video by a group calling themselves Young Torture Killaz. Their opus is “I'll Cut Yo Dick Off” and it's a goof, but not too ridiculous not to feel potentially real.

Something in the song speaks to Nate. Well, not the song, but the experience. It is horrible music, but there's an honesty and desperation that Nate finds striking. (We the in the audience don't have to feel it, it's still believable if we're just chuckling.) Soon Nate is en route to Delaware, a state all have driven through, but no one is entirely convinced has more to it than a few rest stops. He meets and befriends the Young Torture Killaz (in their Mom's basement, naturally) and pretty soon he's got some photographs that are impressive enough to catch the eye of top gallerist Olivier LaFleur.

At around this point you realize that, for a lack of a better term, a “real movie” has snuck up on you. Amidst the double-edged mockery, we find ourselves in a situation where Nate is clearly exploiting the trust of the Young Torture Killaz for his personal gain. It wasn't Nate's intention, but suddenly he's in an ethical quandary, and one without a crystal clear path. (Because, let's face it, the “purple drink” gulping Young Torture Killaz are kinda idiots.)

It's all leading up to Nate's big show at LaFleur's gallery and there are additional complications when he and Takal's character evolve from being just platonic friends. The ending goes to unexpected places, and delighted this viewer with something you don't see enough in movies: an actual punchline. “Hellaware” is amusing throughout, but isn't loaded with laugh-out-loud moments. The ending, however, had me doubled-over.

For a picture so light and droll, you do exit asking, “gee, what would I do in that situation?” That element of depth is perhaps unexpected from scanning the logline. More importantly, by the fifth time you hear “I'll Cut Yo Dick Off” you will, I swear, start singing along. And you'll be humming it hours later. And that, I think we can all agree, is funny.

SCORE: 7.5 / 10

"Hellaware" plays at BAMCinemaFest on Saturday, June 22 2013.