Here’s a nasty piece of work: Trash Fire follows a gaggle of thoroughly unpleasant people as they collide for an unpleasant weekend of unpleasantness. Writer-director Richard Bates Jr. seems to be daring the audience to see how long they can stick it out and put up with all of this. You have to respect a film that’s so completely committed to turning its audience off. But you don’t have to admire it.
Adrian Grenier cashes-in on his d-bag Entourage image, playing Owen, an unrepentant asshole with a troubled fast. Owen suffers from epileptic fits in which he has terrifying visions of a fire, but such an affliction doesn’t make him the least bit sympathetic. Owen lives with his long suffering girlfriend Isabel (Angela Trimbur), who appears to utterly hate his guts. Yet the couple remain together for reasons that are never made clear, bickering their way through couple’s therapy.
When Isabel finds out she’s pregnant, her first reaction is to terminate the pregnancy rather than have a child with a fucked-up father like Owen. But the prospect of being a father changes Owen — slightly. He’s still a prick, but he seems willing to make an effort to better himself for his child. Isabel has one condition: he has to reconnect with his remaining family members. So Owen and Isabel hit the road and bunk up with Owen’s cruel grandmother Violet (Fionnula Flanagan) and his badly burned, emotionally unstable sister Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord). Any sensible person would head back to the car seconds after meeting Owen’s family, but Owen and Isabel stick around, and bad things follow.
It’s never quite clear what type of movie Bates wants this to be. It’s never funny enough to be considered a comedy and while it’s nasty and peppered with horrific moments, it doesn’t enter horror territory either. And the film is far too slick and glossy to approach the beautiful trashiness made famous by John Waters. Instead, Trash Fire is an unrelenting shout-fest, with characters at each other’s throats for its entire run time. Sure, the same can be said of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but Edward Albee this is not.
The cast does their best with what they’re given. Grenier uses his smugness adeptly, and Trimbur makes for a nice foil for the actor, even though her character motives are never adequately explained. Flanagan, for her part, is clearly relishing playing such a sadistic character, and the actress is so skilled that she’s always a treat to watch. But Trash Fire has no concept of who these characters are, or what their deal is. Instead it sets them adrift, sending them into one miserable scene after another. It culminates in a bloody finale that’s meant to inject new, deadly energy into this narrative, but it’s too little too late. Trash Fire may find a cult crowd who appreciate its vile vibe, but anyone looking for more than that need not apply.