Hard-boiled novelist Jim Thompson is name-checked early and reverently in “Bad Turn Worse,” a down-and-dirty robbery yarn set in rural Texas from co-directing brothers Zeke and Simon Hawkins, making their feature debut.
The crime-lit shout-out comes from college-bound Sue (Mackenzie Davis), who excitedly quotes to fellow small-town escapee BJ (Logan Huffman) the Thompson observation that there are 32 ways to tell a story but only one plot: Things are not what they seem.
With that referential wink/nod/jab, screenwriter Dutch Southern makes it impossible not to guess most of what transpires after violent cotton mill boss Giff (Mark Pellegrino, dialing up dastardly) menaces the teen trio of BJ, Sue and Sue’s jealous, overbearing beau, Bobby (Jeremy Allen White), into stealing cash from a local gangster called Big Red.
The Hawkins brothers have an envelopingly moody visual style that strives for offbeat touches, at times easily conjuring the existential threat in desolate areas. But that can’t make up for the story deficiencies and character superficiality in the script. “Bad Turn Worse” simply peters out by the night of the big heist, never achieving more than being imitative of small-town noir instead of getting inside it.
“Bad Turn Worse”
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.