People put a lot of stock, when looking back, in being young and stupid, making mistakes but ultimately learning from them. This only is a good thing if you don’t get killed by a psychopathic mobster while you’re making those young and stupid mistakes. In the new film Bad Turn Worse, three friends find out why it’s best not to poke the gun-toting lion with a stick, and then poke each other with things that are like sticks, and then try to lie to the gun-toting lion. Metaphors can’t even save them.
Bad Turn Worse, directed by Simon and Zeke Hawkins and written by the improbably named Dutch Southern, is the kind of Texas Nowheresville crime drama that knows where it’s heading from the first moments but takes a road less traveled to get there. Things do indeed go from bad to worse at each of those turns and the characters continue to make poor decisions, but you’re with them for most of it because you’d hate to see them not succeed. Even dummies need to get out alive on occasion. Inspired, surely, by the work of Cormac McCarthy and his ilk, this movie is slightly more hopeful, less nihilistic, but the personified freight train of death that seems to populate stories like this is nevertheless chugging right towards them.
At the beginning of the film, B.J. (Logan Huffman), a young lad without a lot of future prospects, breaks into an office at night and steals a heap of cash and a pistol from a safe. The next day he goes to meet his book smart girlfriend Sue (Mackenzie Davis) and his best friend Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) at the local Whataburger (yes, it’s a real thing in Texas). Bobby and Sue are both going away to college in a few weeks and B.J. isn’t and is feeling left out. He also doesn’t know, but suspects, that Bobby is hopelessly in love with Sue, who probably would get along better with Bobby but she’s committed to B.J. B.J. tells them that he’s “saved up” a whole lot of money and the three of them should go on a crazy weekend, which they do, blowing thousands of dollars on hotels and bar tabs and attempting to get Bobby laid but not.
This is all well and good except for what happens when they get back. B.J. tells Bobby that he stole the money from their boss, Giff (Mark Pellegrino), a mid-level organized crime figure who holds quantities of money for the mysterious and dangerous mob boss Big Red. They arrive at work to see Giff beating the living tar out of the guy who should have been watching the place when B.J. stole the money, thinking he must have taken it. Attempting to save the man’s life, Bobby admits it was him who stole the money, and Giff kills the other man anyway. Now, Giff doesn’t like being stolen from, clearly, but he also knows he can manipulate the situation. He has Bobby and B.J., who is like a son to Giff, plan to break into where Big Red holds his money, steal it, give it to Giff to replace the money they stole, and then everything will be okay, except of course it won’t. Sue gets involved and when Bobby and Sue’s true feelings for each other come out, the bonds of friendship and loyalty go right out the window.
This is a movie that’s certainly pulpy but doesn’t fall into the trap of being too soapy, which these kind of movies can venture into. The twists are nice and unexpected and revealed in a really fun way, all the while with us having a sense of dread for the characters. Again, these are world-dumb characters playing with someone who doesn’t mess around, so by rights they sort of deserve the mess they’re in, but you want them to make it because they are so innocent and have a future. Also unlike Cormac McCarthy, not everyone is doomed just by being alive; it’s a thriller not a contemplation of existential ennui.
Maybe not the most original piece of storytelling, and some of the dialogue is a bit too navel-gazy, but these are college-bound kids so I think most of it is justifiable, but Bad Turn Worse is a solid piece of genre filmmaking with an absolutely stellar, frighteningly great performance by Mark Pellegrino. He’s insanely good. Give it a look.