S. Craig Zahler does not care if you do not like his new movie.
It's a relief, because many of you will not do it. Like Zahler's previous films, Fight in the cell block 99 and Tomahawk bone, Dragged on the concrete is a fifth of the kind rotgut, a painful and corrosive journey to hell, punctuated by spasms of extreme violence. The title is a warning. The duration, 159 minutes, is another warning. Add to that the casting of Mel Gibson, persona non grata in many circles, and a significant percentage of the public moviegoer will not pass the right column of the film's Wikipedia page. And this, before he grapples with Zahler's policy, which is perhaps much heavier than his most severe critics claim, but which nevertheless derives from Breitbartian's feelings about police brutality, racial tensions , the scourge of central neighborhoods and other topics that may surface. the grandfather's Facebook page. Even for those who can support Zahler's work, which can be as provocative in their unusual lengths as in their shocks, a film like Dragged on the concrete is controversial, especially if you are not on its ideological wavelength.
But let's look at it from another angle: how often are American viewers confronted with a film that does not need to be loved? With its nine-figure budgets, Hollywood literally can not afford to make movies that are not for everyone, and a streaming service like Netflix is actively collecting data on what its subscribers like and gives creative ratings based on this algorithm. A big studio in the late 60's and 70's could have produced something like Dragged on the concrete, a bitter thriller on two desperate cops (Gibson and Vince Vaughn) who use a six-week suspension to plot a robbery. Zahler's style is a return to ruthless gender specialists such as Don Siegel or Sam Peckinpah, who worked in a system that was more willing to avoid small profits with modest budgets. Zahler's three films have been relegated to the rank of no-man's-day, and have been opened on a small number of screens while collecting most of their money for video rentals at home. There is no room for them in the monoculture: if Zahler was not such a singular and dangerous talent, nobody would talk about it at all.
This theme came regularly in my conversation with Zahler. He imagines that a studio might want a version of Dragged on the concrete it was an hour less, but it would have to go faster to prevent people from getting bored. "Some people can get bored," he says. "It's fine, but that's not what the studios want to hear." And he rejects the suggestion that he might be misunderstood or that his critics might miss something. points of view in his films, he insists, and they are not wrong: "Of course, I do not make films, do not write books, I do not do all these things to become popular or to that people love me, "says Zahler." I hope people will appreciate them, but I will not make different creative choices to do more. "
Not that it is particularly respectful from this point of view, notice. "If you're in a film and you're very focused on one thing, you're very interested in how people of that ethnicity, people with this belief system, women, children or Canadians are treated in this movie … your point of view, "says Zahler. And you are entitled to it. If the most important thing for you to come out of the cinematic experience is to reflect your personal convictions, you probably will not get that with any of my films because they are not even in sync with himself. "
Take an early stage from Dragged on the concrete in which partners Brett Ridgeman (Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vaughn) are summoned for a meeting with their senior officer, Lieutenant Calvert (Don Johnson), after having had a hard time with a drug dealer. Ridgeman had captured the man who was trying to escape and held him with a boot against the back of his neck – a filmed incident intended to be broadcast on the evening news. Calvert wants their two badges for a six-week police brutality suspension, though the feeling in the room – and, frankly, behind the camera – is that the perceived offense is essentially bullshit. What Ridgeman did not do this bad, men seem to agree, and it is typical of the principle of political correctness that officers are perceived more feebly than those of a lowlife dealer who spreads poison in the streets and in schools.
It is possible to read the scene simply as a breakdown of white grievances – Calvert laments the fact that the racism of the 2000s is tantamount to calling himself a Communist of the 1950s – but also ambiguous. Ridgeman and Lurasetti have already had trouble before, and they give up their weapons and badges with such casualness that it's a routine, as if the suspensions were in the course of the day's work. When Calvert only connects Ridgeman with him, he reminds her that they were once partners, and that is why he is sitting behind the big desk in the corner and Ridgeman is squatting outside and escapes fire for hours. "I watched this video a few times," he warns. "You have cast a lot more cast iron than necessary. When we have worked together, you are not so abrupt. "
There are many opportunities to read Dragged on the concrete like a right-hand screed, but it does not always align with itself. Sometimes, some middle-aged cops who complain behind closed doors are exactly what one would expect in real life.
Zahler has become a genre filmmaker and a sophisticated novelist, but he is also dedicated to the composition and composition of heavy metals – he composed his three films – but he considers himself a "child of Fangoria. "(Indeed, Zahler is part of the editorial team of the Fangoria, which was purchased by Cinestate, based in Dallas, the same company that produces his films.) After getting his first VCR at 13, the director, now 46, remembers his return to the horror section of Videos R Us in Kendall. , an area of Miami that is essentially a suburban stretch of suburbs, far from the elegant art deco of South Beach. (Videos R Us had to change his name to 4 U Videos when a large chain of toys was complaining.) Young Zahler was not yet an esthete: "More he is violent and gorier "It's better," he says, "Maybe not a surprise to anyone who has seen my movies."
According to Zahler, he returned to filmmaking. These clipping and dismembering clamshell boxes eventually delivered the pearls of Sam Raimi, George Romero and Tobe Hooper, and a long obsession for Japanese culture and animation led to Akira Kurosawa. After buying a video camera at age 14 or 15, Zahler's homemade shorts were quickly banned in his high school ("People get their throats cut and their heads crushed," he says. early for me "). He met filmmakers like Peckinpah and looted the horror of pulp and fantasy from H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and possibly Jim Thompson's crime novel. His precocity has finally earned him a place in the NYU film program, but he has no clear path to achieve the types of films he wanted once he graduated.
It took more than a decade in scriptwriting for Zahler to finally have the chance to make Tomahawk bonebut it was not for lack of trying. He was (and remains) a surprisingly prolific writer, with over 20 scripts to his credit, many of which in different states of flipping, but only two have been returned to production – one is a movie. Belgian prison horror of 2011 called L & # 39; incident and the other is last year Puppet Master: The Smallest Reich, an independent horror comedy about Nazi puppets that turns out to be tasteless. (In a typical scene, our heroes attempt to convince these antisemitic monsters by lighting a menorah.) His name was associated with a non-starter from one project after the other, including an ultra-violent Westerner . The Rattleborge Robbers, which made the prestigious blacklist in 2006 and is currently being relaunched by Korean director Park Chan-wook.
While he was starting scripts, Zahler made three heavy metal albums with his friend Jeff Harriott in the role of Realmbuilder, and played drums and helped write songs for the black metal band Charnel. Valley. Described with gentleness, these groups are an extension of Zahler's interest in dark fantasy and world-building, with ominous titles such as "Advance of the War Giants," "The Beast of Six Thousand Bones" and "Wear their bodies on the horizon ". He has also written five novels in the last nine years, starting with the dark Western horror A congregation of jackals in 2010 and Wraiths of the broken earth in 2013 before moving on to Corpus Chrome, Inc. and the police fiction cooked An average business on North Ganson in 2014. His last book, Hug Chickenpenny: The panegyric of an abnormal childfocuses on a deformed orphan with twisted eyes, tufts of white hair and a screaming cry that is isolated from the other inhabitants of Johnstone's for Unwanted. It is considerably darker from there.
Zahler's aggression and creative agitation manifest themselves even in our conversation. He is currently working on his first graphic novel, which he says will take him six months from 10 to 12 hours to finish, and the press would "suck the two hours" that he would have had by the end of the month. day. Yet the quality that defines his films the most, apart from perhaps their extreme violence, is their willingness to take their time. The logline on Tomahawk bone It's quite simple: a 1890s Sheriff (Kurt Russell) and a detachment clash on a steep and abandoned terrain to save two people from a troglodyte cannibal clan. It takes place in 132 minutes and carefully describes the relationship between men seeking romantic information, such as a conversation about the impossible logistics of reading in the bath or the reasons why a pianist charges 3 cents for a song and a dime for three.
His follow-up of 2017, Fight in the cell block 99, is in idle dough, a thriller at the two-handed jail on Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn), a blue-collar guy, who loses his job as a tow truck driver and who works as a mule of drugs for the bas-reliefs. living local. When he is imprisoned, his former associates kidnap his pregnant wife (Jennifer Carpenter) and order him to murder an inmate who lives in the worst part of the worst prison imaginable. He has to maim several guards and detainees just to be demoted enough to do the job. Again, Zahler plunges a 90-minute exploitation film into a 132-minute hellish descent, as he wants to marinate in the tough choices and the consequences that Bradley has to face, and because he's going to be in trouble. Attaches to these evocative details. For example, before the extortion plot begins, Zahler gives a comprehensive overview of the life of a new prisoner incarcerated in a medium security prison, from treatment to counseling. It's hypnotic and utterly defiant of gender norms.
"For me, it's a very good use of the film," says Zahler, who conducted his research through a friend who works at Rikers Island. "It's not just about telling you a story, but putting you in that space. I had never seen a film that gave me the impression of giving up your belongings. Now these guys are checking you out. Now this person is your guidance counselor. Now this person is your work resource manager. All these things that you experience with the character, and I think that really makes the film, especially for the stylized and baroque style of the last part of the film. "
In the run-up to the bank robbery in Dragged on the concrete, Zahler again stops the film to stage a mini drama in one act around an employee whose role in the great story is so insignificant that 99% of other filmmakers would have hired an extra for the role. Instead, he raises the issues of Ridgeman and Lurasetti's decision-making, as well as the guilt of a third main character, Henry Johns (Tory Kittles), an ex-convict who turns to theft for the same reasons. But Zahler impregnates him with boredom and speaks ill of Ridgeman and Lurasetti, and devotes an entire minute to Lurasetti who eats a sandwich as coveted as Adele Exarchopoulos devours spaghetti. Blue is the hottest color.
"When you build all these situations, which you add, develop and then develop," says Zahler, "you have an idea of all these pre-existing relationships and complex relationships. Since many discussions have been devoted to the violent aspects of my images, all these things are at least as important, if not more important. You can better understand these people than a scene of carnage and violence. "
Not that there is not a lot of carnage. In their own way, the extraordinary properties devoted to the meticulousness of staging and performance are the starting point for a generous batch of bloody bleeding in the back. Tomahawk bone is a Westerner who literally takes the old-fashioned definition of Amerindians as "savages" by separating a primitive clan from "troglodytes" of humanity. (Zahn McClarnon appears as a local Native American who gives the instructions, but it is absolutely clear that these cannibals should not be confused with a tribe.) The film leads to the most shocking act of violence in recent years (and not so recent), we are sure to crack the audience even to the heart. (Those who saw Tomahawk bone will moan at the pun.)
Nothing in Fight in the cell block 99 The rather visceral impact of Bradley's prison toilet succession when he makes his way down the ladder, but Zahler has the yen for skin hocks and collapsing faces like soft clay . Dragged on the concrete He fights in hand-to-hand combat for pyrotechnics of assault weapons and armored vans, and abandons himself to the tension and tactics of a prolonged shootout. Absolute evil is present in all three films – these men, even the most imperfect ones, come up against imposing, almost subhuman forces of darkness – and Zahler pledges to do everything in his power to dispel this pain. This child of Fangoria will always meet the expectations of this audience, although repulsive non-subscribers may find it, but the main purpose is to keep the Jewish youth. Although it is probably a goal.
It goes without saying that getting acquainted with these characters profoundly reinforces the effect and allows for the titanic performances of Russell, Vaughn and Gibson, whose diminished veteran work bubbling with rage and regret is a classic example to steer in the curve. Understanding men like Ridgeman and Lurasetti can be as ugly as any Zahler explicit massacre. It is both a virtue and a problem, depending on your point of view, and it brings us back to politics and attitudes that are closer than ever to the surface of one's work.
"I do not look for films to express values," says Zahler. "It's getting dangerously close to a" movie diary ", a film supporting his thesis, my characters are driving my films." But Dragged on the concrete reveals that this is not an alternative proposition: a movie based on characters can expressing values too, and Zahler undoubtedly does so, despite his caginess. When Ridgeman's daughter gets her fifth assault and her wife says not to be racist until they move to a bad neighborhood, Zahler does absolutely nothing to refute his statement. However, he works overtime to carefully delineate the moral distance between Ridgeman and Lurasetti, suggesting that their age difference explains why the young policeman has not yet sunk into toxic prejudices.
These are the contradictions that underlie Zahler's films. He would be the first to say that it's up to you to decide if you can live with them.
Scott Tobias is an independent Chicago film and television writer. His work appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Vulture, Varietyand other publications.