The shadow of war, from the prehistoric days to the ultra-modern, technologically-advanced warfare of the present, has loomed large over the entirety of humanity. One could argue that war is the one thing seen consistently throughout history, seemingly touching every corner of the globe, affecting nearly every culture, every country, every family in one way or another. As we saw with the Oscar-favorite German film All Quiet on the Western Front (2022), a new adaptation of the classic novel by Eric Maria Remarque, war is as much of a horror show as even the most depraved of horror films. Horror filmmaker, and all-around good man on Twitter, Ted Geoghegan takes on this challenge of hitting both genres in dedication to his father, SSgt. Michael Edward Geoghegan, USAF, in Shudder original Brooklyn 45, combining the horrors of war with the cosmic thrills of a classic ghost story.
The time is December 27th, 1945; the place is Brooklyn. At his home, Lt. Col. Clive “Hock” Hockstatter (Larry Fessenden) has invited best friends and fellow World War II veterans Marla (Anne Ramsay) and Bob Sheridan (Ron E. Rains), Mjr. Archibald Stanton (Jeremy Holm), and Mjr. Paul DiFranco (Ezra Buzzington) to his home for a night of drinks and camaraderie. As the friends settle into one of their first post-war social gatherings, Hock reveals his true intentions for the night’s proceedings: to assist in a seance to contact his deceased wife (Lucy Carapetyan) to discover the true reason behind her mysterious suicide. When the seance produces chaotically effective results, the literal and figurative ghosts of war, having cast a shadow on all of them already, are forced to be reckoned with, not least when Hock’s German neighbor, Hildegard Baumann (Kristina Klebe) enters the picture.
I went into Brooklyn 45 knowing little of what was to come in terms of tone, and I was very pleasantly surprised to find a film so very oddly tender and tragic at the heart of a story that also features ectoplasmic seances and Geoghegan’s trademark pension for schlocky gore (albeit an immense amount less than his previous films, We Are Still Here (2015) [a favorite of mine] and Mohawk (2017)). Rather than focusing solely on what could’ve been a massacre of head-exploding proportions, we’re left to reckon with the horrors not only seen but committed by our group of protagonists, and them facing the truth of such acts in the presence of transparent figures of the spirit realm staring them down.
If not for the rather impressive visual effects, Brooklyn 45 could really work wonderfully as a deliciously macabre one-act stage play as we find ourselves trapped in a singular location with the same actors and with a very poignant screenplay which gives the actors a great amount of space to move around and interact with each other in different ways. And it helps that the cast here works wonders with each other. Still, special mention has to fall upon Anne Ramsay (Violet) and Ezra Buzzington (Mohawk), who fall on such different sides of the post-war spectrum of tolerance and recuperation in what should be the face of a safer, less violent world. Buzzington’s particularly frightening portrayal of a man still racked with paranoia and anger from the war is perhaps one of the most frightening elements of Brooklyn 45, and I felt more fear watching his rants on war, Germans, as well as the wonderfully placed sub-plot surrounding Stanton’s sexuality, both compelling and terrifying. Ramsay, conversely, brings the tender, emotional element to the film, and anchors the film’s chaos with a strong, composed composition.
I think perhaps my biggest surprise with Brooklyn 45 was how talky it was. Don’t get me wrong, this is a horror film, one with plenty of supernatural elements abound, but it spends a good amount of its very efficient 92-minute runtime (every busy person say, “Thank you, Ted!”) building on character and natural tension, but trust that before the end of the film, it becomes a true Geoghegan film, descending into chaos at a disorienting rate. Perhaps this focus on character might make some of the grand metaphors of the entire thing a little heavy-handed when they take the time to expound upon them in detail, but it still remains a strange, but completely unique structure for a film that balances war drama and horror in this way. I really can’t say I’ve seen anything quite like it.
Also, while I don’t have much to really say for it on a technical level, I would also like to bring attention to the score from Blitz//Berlin (PG: Psycho Goreman/The Void) that is wonderfully atmospheric.
Brooklyn 45 isn’t the most aggressively bombastic horror film you could see at SXSW (my money is on Evil Dead Rise probably providing that on closing night), but it’s a wonderful hybrid-genre film that brings war and trauma full circle, long after the peace treaties are signed and the soldiers are sent home, expected to live normal lives and to be normal people. Anyone who has ever known someone touched by war knows (and as stated, that is pretty much all of us), no one comes back the same, and, sometimes, the horrors of the past can be far scarier than any supernatural entity, no matter how malicious, could be. Geoghegan’s uniquely structured ghost story is a tender departure for the filmmaker yet retains the strands of schlocky, but incredibly polished and studied, horror.
War is hell.
Screening during SXSW 2023.
For more information, head to the official SXSW Brooklyn 45 webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.
Categories: In Theaters, Reviews
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