I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Jared McMillan // Film Critic
Movies normally have various points in the narrative where it blends different moods or even genres to be effective in storytelling. The key is to have a transition to help guide the audience from one mindset to another. A great example would be KILL LIST, which starts out as British gangster fare but morphs into occult horror in a seamless manner. However, it can also have a genre as the backdrop, with different elements of other genres to facilitate either a more realistic approach or flat-out ennui.
In the realm of dark comedies, it can be served mainly in two different ways: either serious subject matter with situational humor, or a comedic premise with dire consequences happening throughout. A bachelor party goes awry after a stripper gets murdered, a pair of hitmen must hide out in a boring town due to an accidental murder…the abrupt circumstances that interrupt the characters’ reality while maintaining their personality and sense of humor.
The latest entry to the dark comedy genre is ARIZONA, which centers on a development community in the title state during the housing market crash, circa 2009. This is a real event that caused Americans to lose their homes to the banks, establishing a serious tone. However, it becomes direr with the opening sequence ending with an attempted suicide because the homeowner couldn’t pay their loan.
It is here that the audience is introduced to the protagonist, a real-estate agent named Cassie (Rosemarie DeWitt), living with her daughter in the same development that she is struggling to sell, and therefore in danger of losing her own home. She goes to work for her offensive boss (a cameo by Seth Rogen), when someone he sold a house to walks in to unload his frustrations on the current situation. That someone is Sonny (Danny McBride), a wannabe entrepreneur (his main invention is Miami Wice, which are wine ice cubes) who can’t get out from under his mortgage. They fight, and Sonny accidentally Cassie’s boss. She tries to phone for help, but Sonny knocks her unconscious and kidnaps her.
Now, something that is an accident has become the basis for Sonny’s downward spiral, and Cassie is caught in the middle of it all. He starts out as bumbling, showing his hostage how cool his house is, trying to disguise his already-seen face by wearing a hoodie backwards with eye & mouth slits cut into the hood. But, the deeper Sonny gets into the situation, and the more Cassie tries to get out of it, the body count starts to rise in the newly-minted ghost town.
DeWitt and McBride really do well in their respective roles, encompassing the low points, albeit exaggerated, of both parties involved in the housing crash. The realtor, who preyed upon others to get a commission through banking loopholes, and the buyer that bought well beyond their means thanks to banking loopholes. Their decisions now becoming a form of desperation, Cassie and Sonny are both trying to escape the respective hells they’ve created; the realtor that ruined lives, and the homeowner that’s ending lives.
The debut of both director Jonathan Watson and screenwriter Luke del Tredici (BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, THE LIFE & TIMES OF TIM), ARIZONA plays out to become a serial killer horror flick but has trouble in blending the comedic timing with the emotion of horror. Because Sonny goes full-blown murderer, the audience can no longer accept him as a bumbling fool. His accidental kill has morphed into intent, a person hellbent on making sure he gets away with his crimes. So, when he does something out of that element, it takes the movie out of the element.
ARIZONA would’ve probably had a better connection leaving the comedic elements out and focusing on the stress and anguish of the homeowner, in that time period, and feeling the need for revenge against the ones that “wronged” him. The movie is something that sticks with you afterward though, because the horror elements are so good. But, one can’t help but wonder how it could have been without the misunderstanding.
ARIZONA is now playing in select theaters and available on Video-On-Demand.