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(Austin Texas’ South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival ran March 10-19. Stay tuned to Hammer to Nail for our usual great coverage like this movie review of Brooklyn 45. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

It’s just after Christmas in 1945, the year World War II ended. Did the conflict really come to a close, though? The wounds of battle run deep in those affected, and it can take more than a few months to shake off the trauma of it all. This is how director Ted Geoghegan (Mohawk) sets up the story of his new film, Brooklyn 45, which follows a cast of five characters gathering to ring in the new year, only to find that the past won’t let them move forward. Though a period piece, the movie is very much of our time, examining themes as relevant today as they’ve ever been. Throw in some paranormal mystery and the occasional gore, and you’ve got quite the cinematic package. Bring on the ghosts and guts, please.

Marla (Anne Ramsay, The Taking of Deborah Logan) was an Allied interrogator during the war, and apparently a good (and very ruthless) one. She has been invited to join fellow veterans Archie (Jeremy Holm, Don’t Look Back) and Paul (Ezra Buzzington, Mohawk)—each of whom had their own deadly combat specialties—at the home of Hock (Larry Fessenden, Jakob’s Wife), another member of their team. Tagging along is Marla’s husband, Bob (Ron E. Rains, When Icarus Fell), the only one of the guests to not have served, though he currently occupies a post at the Pentagon. This makes him the odd man out and the butt of Archie’s frequent jokes. Expect his simmering resentment to eventually boil over.

It’s a surprisingly grim assembly for such an ostensibly celebratory occasion, though given the Thanksgiving suicide of Hock’s wife, Susie, the mood could not have been otherwise. And then there are the memories of recent atrocities, not only witnessed but also, as we learn, perpetrated by members of our group. Sure, they were the good guys, but there was killing to be done and someone had to volunteer.

When Hock proposes a séance to communicate with the spirit of the dead—and by dead, he really means Susie—no one is particularly excited. Much alcohol has flowed by this time, however, and a Brooklyn brownstone is as good a place as any to try something different. Plus, it’s not like the rest of the company actually believes anything could happen, so why not indulge their host? Famous last thoughts . . .

That which ensues is a creepy meditation on what happens when people forced to tap into the worst qualities of human nature are unable to return to their previous state. Xenophobia and psychopathy intertwine as our protagonists find that while they may not accept the possibility of the supernatural, the supernatural accepts them. No one doubts that the Nazis were defeated, but suspicions abound as to where the enemy now lurks. Flash forward to the present day and we can see the parallels to the kinds of prejudices that still abide.

Geoghegan may traffic in serious matters, but he’s very much here for the fun of the exercise, as well, working with a team that delivers terrific practical effects on cue. The ensemble—with the addition of Kristina Klebe (Sinister Seduction) as a late, surprise guest—is strong throughout, deeply engaging us in the issues at hand. Sit back and let the horror take hold. It’s a wild ride.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

2023 SXSW Film Festival; Ted Geoghegan; Brooklyn 45 movie review

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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