September 21, 2017

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Sundance Film Review: ‘Bushwick’

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America on the brink of a second civil war is a timely concept that only got timelier last November, and gritty action-thriller “Bushwick” exploits that frightening “what if” scenario from a boots-on-the-ground perspective. Even if the low budget execution is uneven at times, there’s enough snap to the filmmaking, and enough raw power in the premise, to make for solid B-movie excitement. A surprisingly potent performance from professional wrestler (and “Guardians of the Galaxy” co-star) Dave Bautista should only add to the appeal for a young male audience.

While Bautista will surely be central to any marketing campaign, the focus of the movie is actually grad student Lucy (Brittany Snow), who becomes our avatar into a disconcerting alternate universe in which the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick is under military invasion. After witnessing her boyfriend’s brutal death just outside of an abandoned subway station, Lucy makes her way through streets littered with bodies and a mysterious military force.

A few citizens are fighting back against these initially unidentified assailants, while others take the opportunity to loot. But the majority wind up dead. Fortunately for Lucy — a civil engineering major with little to no practical survival skills — she happens upon ex-Marine Stupe (Bautista), who lives in a basement shelter and claims to be on his way to Hoboken, New Jersey, to reunite with his wife and child.

Lucy begs him to help her get a mere five blocks to her grandmother’s apartment, and although Stupe is initially reluctant, the pair are bonded when she helps cauterize a wound he receives from a piece of shattered glass. It’s not until they meet up with Lucy’s feisty pothead sister Belinda (Angelic Zambrana), and intercept one of the masked soldiers (Alex Breaux) that they and the audience uncover what’s really going on.

Details that are best kept under wraps for maximum impact will surely emerge as part of the film’s marketing strategy, particularly since the high concept has become all the more eerily credible, and irresistibly provocative, in the current political atmosphere. Inspired by (sensationalized) reports that former Texas Governor Rick Perry was advocating the state secede from the union after the election of President Barack Obama, the invading military presence in “Bushwick” turns out to be a consortium of soldiers from multiple Southern states looking to force the government’s hand in ratifying a multi-state secession. They’re focused on areas like Bushwick because the “ethno-diversity” is believed to make for easy targets to occupy.

That’s one of several ways the film, scripted by Nick Damici (“Cold In July”) and sound designer Graham Reznick but directed by the “Cooties” team of Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott, casually dips into race relations and divisions

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