Toronto After Dark Film Festival: Trash Fire Review

(By: Sherry Li)

Before the movie even started, director Richard Bates Jr. apologized on screen to the audience about the ending of Trash Fire, adding that he wished he was there in person to try and make the audience happy again.

This hinted that Trash Fire would be a treat and it certainly was incredibly fun to watch. Bates Jr. manages to ground the movie around a tumultuous and dissatisfied couple and then gradually unveils a well-crafted horror full of tension, comedy, and captivating characters.

The movie follows Owen and his girlfriend Isabella, played by Adrien Grenier and Angela Trimbar, who are in an unhappy, long-term relationship. The movie quickly sets the tone of their relationship through our first interaction with them – Isabelle walking out on their third-year anniversary dinner after Owen behaves inappropriately the entire time.

Despite the fact that Owen is an incredibly erroneous character, often unapologetically blunt and scorns everyone he talks to, he is likeable enough to win the audience over fairly quickly.

Owen decides to prove to Isabelle that he can change to save their relationship, and agrees to meet Isabella’s condition to prove it. This propelled the plot in motion, which led to both of them visiting and trying to reconcile with Owen’s estranged family – his grandmother Violet, Fionnula Flanagan, and his sister Pearl, AnnaLynne McCord, who survived the fire that killed their parents with burns on over 80 per cent of her body. This visit quickly turns sour and heads into a much darker direction.

Isabelle and Owen have a great rapport, throwing insults at each other constantly and seem to barely scrape by as a couple. However their relationship continues to develop as the movie goes on and despite the fact that they show a great deal of disdain towards each other, there were also glimpses of a once happy couple.

These glimpses of the potential they have together explain somewhat why Isabelle stays with Owen despite him being intolerable to be around most of the time. At the center of their relationship is a couple who actually does love each other a lot, even if they are terrible at showing it.

The movie is filled with many twists, some are predictable, some are not. It occasionally takes the easy way out, using religion as a villainous crutch. It was not a very traditional horror, as the stakes didn’t feel very high, causing the film to lose the tension it built throughout, especially since it was riddled with humour.

However, the characterization in this film is fantastic – Owen’s grandmother and Pearl feel fleshed out and believable, but maintain enough mystery to leave the audience uncomfortable and frankly, a little scared.

The characterization of Pearl was incredible, McCord does an incredible job conveying Pearl’s sheltered and childlike demeanor – her despair and loneliness evident.

The weakest character was Isabelle and even then she is not completely flat, as her motivations are clear though disagreeable. There was a lot of time spent developing the characters, but having such a character driven movie worked well when they were as interesting as they were in Trash Fire.

Overall, Trash Fire was a fun flick with a fantastic cast and great direction. Despite the genre of the movie, its characters felt genuine dealing with issues that are authentic and relatable to many of us. It didn’t feel like a traditional horror, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It was riddled with dark, sometimes crude, sexual humour, and ended up bringing to the table exactly what it promised without disappointment.


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