Chris Fuller's powerfully unsettling debut—written in 1997 when the director was just 15—is a starkly lyrical portrait of angry, disaffected teens in the racially tense wake of the actual 1996 St. Petersburg, Florida, riots. Igniting the fuse, a high-school skinhead (Travis Maynard) and his mechanic pal (Fuller, under the name Lewis Brogan) fling a beer bottle at a black student's van, leading to street skirmishes in which literally no punches are pulled: Rival gangs ruthlessly beat the crap out of each other on camera. A fleeting romance develops between a slutty, late-shift waitress (Kayla Tabish) and Fuller's grease monkey, and it soon becomes clear that the film's rampant fucking/boozing/fighting is naturally born from boredom, confusion, and dead-end despair. At face value, the story and themes have been done to death, but Fuller's in-your-face artistic precision makes this a radical film. From the eccentric sound design—which pipes in audio from Charles Bukowski and Dwarves frontman Blag Dahlia and the rants of political activists over the otherwise sparse dialogue—to the unexpectedly still and striking 16mm framing, Loren Cass wants to blow your head off—which explains Fuller's choice to include the still-shocking footage of Pennsylvania politician Budd Dwyer's televised suicide.
Fuller drives us down mean streets indeed.
Runs at Grand Illusion, Fri., Sept. 25–Thurs., Oct. 1. Not rated. 83 minutes.