Flaming out from the get-go, “Trash Fire” represents another soggy batch of Southern Gothic horror-comedy from writer-director Richard Bates Jr. that spews out pitch black smoke with little combustible substance.
Going through a particularly toxic phase in their failing relationship, Owen (Adrian Grenier) and Isabel (Angela Trimbur) aren’t the sort of couple you’d find at the top of a dinner party invitation list.
Terminally disillusioned, emotionally cruel and given to seizures at decidedly inopportune moments, Owen has made Isabel bitter and resentful, although there’s nothing here to suggest they once shared a healthier dynamic.
Their last-ditch stab at a lasting reconciliation hinges on a visit to Owen’s estranged, fanatical grandmother (Irish character actress Fionnula Flanagan) and his reclusive sister, Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord), who has been left physically and emotionally disfigured by a fire that killed their parents.
Unsurprisingly, the reunion unleashes a slew of decadence and depravity that those familiar with the filmmaker’s previous efforts, “Suburban Gothic” and “Excision,” have embraced with a substantial cult following.
But while Flanagan happily munches away at the scenery as an increasingly demented harridan, the script leaves Grenier and the rest of the assembled entourage, including Sally Kirkland as his long-suffering therapist, scavenging for scraps of dimension.
Without first bothering to give viewers sympathetic, redeemable main characters speaking something other than the ponderously mannered lines that pass as dialogue, Bates will never make good on his early promise as a fresh, provocative face in the midnight-movie crowd.
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Laemmle NoHo, North Hollywood; Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Playhouse, Pasadena