BuddyBoyAn uncommonly stylish, nuanced psychological thriller with distinct echoes of the cinema of Roman Polanski.  While the film starts slowly, once BUDDY BOY really gets going (which admittedly takes a while), it’s hard to beat: unsettling, outrageous and darkly funny.

Fans of Roman Polanski will recognize his influence in this film, completed in 1999 and given an extremely sporadic release by Fine Line Features.  Thankfully it’s finally out on DVD (albeit a full six years after the fact), so it may at last find an appreciative audience.

Writer-director Mark Hanlon makes the Polanski connection concrete by casting Emmanuel Seigner, Polanski’s wife and frequent co-star (in FRANTIC, BITTER MOON and THE NINTH GATE) in a pivotal role.  Another cast member of note is the inimitable Susan Tyrell, a veteran of exploiters like FORBIDDEN ZONE and NIGHT WARNING, and a large part of what makes the present film so effective.  In fact, my only problem with Tyrell’s role is that I wish she had more screen time!  Also, the under-utilized Linda Manz shows up in a tiny part near the end; Manz made a huge impression as a child in DAYS OF HEAVEN, THE WANDERERS and OUT OF THE BLUE, but unfortunately hasn’t been seen much since.  Let’s hope this is the start of a trend.

Francis is a severely withdrawn, maladjusted young man who cares for his invalid stepmother in the company of her pot-smoking boyfriend.  Francis spends his off hours working in a photo developing plant and spying on the gorgeous Gloria, who lives across the street from him, through a hole in his wall.

Nothing, is seems, is going to change in Francis’ life, at least until one day a chain of circumstances throws him and Gloria together and, believe it or not, she becomes attracted to him.  This terrifies Francis, but he lets the relationship proceed.  He still, however, watches Gloria through the hole in his wall, and begins to notice some odd things.  Despite the fact that she’s a devout vegetarian Francis spies Gloria carving up a slab of meat.  On another occasion he sees her romancing another guy.  He keeps quiet about what he knows, but can’t stay still when, viewing a party Gloria’s throwing at her place, Francis spies her putting a severed head in a cooking pot.  He bursts into her apartment, disrupting the party, and rips off the top of the pot to find…a cantaloupe.  It seems Francis may be seeing things that aren’t actually there—not that this dissuades him, as he begins to suspect that Gloria is harboring a kidnapped girl whose picture Francis sees on milk cartons.

Meanwhile, Francis’ stepmother is steadily losing her mind, and goes over the edge completely during a fight with her boyfriend in which it’s revealed that “she” is actually a man in drag!  The boyfriend is killed for this knowledge, and when Francis arrives home that night he’s conscripted into covering up the crime by storing the corpse in his bathtub.

This does nothing to help Francis’ already fractured psyche; in fact, it drives him completely batshit.  During his latest look into Gloria’s apartment, he sees her preparing another severed head for dinner: his own!

As well made as BUDDY BOY is, it’s not up to the standards of its primary influences, Polanski’s REPULSION and ROSEMARY’S BABY.  Certainly writer-director Mark Hanlon deserves credit for the methodical way he develops the narrative (in direct contrast to the ADD-addled pacing so prevalent these days), with an unusual amount of attention paid to character development.  But the protagonist isn’t nearly as fascinating a character as Hanlon seems to believe, which means the first thirty-to-forty minutes are somewhat less than compelling.  (Quite simply, there’s no earthly reason I could see why Francis’ pretty neighbor would be attracted to this dweeb!)  But when Francis begins seeing things that may not really be happening, the film, for me at least, caught fire.

Yes, this is a film that improves substantially as it goes along, developing a real style, personality and twisted sense of humor as its protagonist descends further into madness.  We also get to see Susan Tyrrell at her most unhinged in the latter scenes, which is always a wonder to behold.  There’s little in the way of bloodletting (sorry), but Hanlon manages nonetheless to create a frenzied crescendo of twisted insanity.  The somewhat open-ended conclusion, for its part, can be taken as either a happy or unhappy ending, depending on one’s point of view.

Vital Statistics 

Independent Pictures

Director: Mark Hanlon
Producers: Cary Woods, Gina Mingacci
Screenplay: Mark Hanlon
Cinematography: Hubert Taczanowski
Editing: Hughes Winborne
Cast: Aidan Gillen, Emmanuelle Seigner, Susan Tyrrell, Mark Boone Junior, Linda Manz, Harry Groener, Hector Elias, Jon Huertas, Richard Assad, Tim DeKay, Jessica Goana, Ray Miceli