(Lace Crater is the debut feature from Harrison Atkins, a young filmmaker who’s been making waves at film fests with his curious short films. The film is in limited release now in theaters and on VOD through FlixFling which is currently offering a free trial.)
I first caught Harrison Atkin’s short film Blissful Banquet at the 2015 Oak Cliff Film Festival. I was immediately taken by Atkins’ surrealistic views on relationships but also by his keen eye for offbeat visuals and dark humor. That short is a perfect entry point into Atkins style and point of view in that it’s a forcefully kitschy film examining a modern relationship in a unique way. This is all just a fancy way of saying. Atkins makes really weird movies. All of his short films are available at his site and are well worth your time.
Lace Crater is Atkins first feature and it’s very much an extension of his short films however, it’s a much darker and scarier film. While his short films are really funny there’s also a darkness to them lurking just barely below the surface. Lace Crater allows that darkness to bubble right through, gaining steam as it does before exploding in a black ooze of esoteric, unanswerable moments.
As the film opens we meet a group of friends on their way to the Hamptons for a weekend of fun. There’s some sexual angst between the friends as Ruth (Lindsay Burdge) is newly single and has caught the eye of her male friends, particularly Andrew (Andrew Ryder). Ruth’s bestie Claudette (Jennifer Kim) encourages her to make a move but we soon discover Claudette’s has eyes on Andrew as well. It’s a very typical set-up for a weekend getaway type of film with several anchor points of tension. But then things get weird.
After spending the day lounging about and drinking beer, the group decides to take some Molly and everyone starts tripping on their own wavelength. As the party dissipates, Ruth retires to the boathouse where she’s chosen to sleep even though there’s rumors of it being haunted. No sooner has she settled in for a hazy nights rest when she begins hearing noises and a man dressed in a burlap sack shroud comes into the room.
Now, look. We’ve all done stupid things when under the influence so I don’t want to come off as a prude here. But having sexual intercourse with an otherworldly being has never popped up (no pun intended) for me. But it does for Ruth and soon, she and this “spirit” named Michael (Peter Vack) are doing the nasty. Even writing that seems like an improbable situation to have occur but Atkins manages to pull it off mostly through the performance of Burdge. She’s indeed tripping on hallucinogenics and at first just kind of goes with the flow, figuring this is part of her trip. But once the touching begins an almost uncontrollable passion ignites and the two have an intense sexual relation.
The next day Ruth keeps the event under wraps but almost immediately she begins to feel ill. Her condition worsens and we realize she’s been infected with something from Michael that is later diagnosed as an STD. Thus Lace Crater sort of becomes a cautionary tale of the dangers of sexual intercourse in modern society ala It Follows. But the film is also much more than that as we see Ruth start to act more and more strange and her friends start to pull away. Themes of lost love, friendship and slut shaming are touched upon and mixed in to make for an intriguing mind fuck of a movie.
Atkins is a young guy and it’s impressive to see such singular vision brought to the screen. All of his films are offbeat looks at relationships, choices and the kind of existential disengagement millennials all seem to share. Relationships seem to wander around aimlessly and while people claim to be close, there’s always an almost flaky disinterest or lack of caring involved both in Atkins’ movies and in “real life” (or IRL as the same millenials might say). Atkins traffics in these areas and does it in a unique way with digital psychedelic moments as well as truly surrealistic shots and moments. Lace Crater reminded me a bit of early Polanski or even David Lynch but as interpreted via an acid trip or through the eyes of a young person steeped in this digital age. Atkins continues to grow as a filmmaker with Lace Crater and it’s inspiring and refreshing to see such an interesting person with peculiar points of view pursuing their vision.
– Don R. Lewis (@ThatDonLewis)