By Nicole Veneto
I Blame Society may put off those looking for a sleek #MeToo satire, but it is a fun little B-movie with killer insight and attitude to spare.
Gillian Wallace Horvat’s madcap debut feature, I Blame Society, examines the connections between the sociopathy of violence and the madness of artistic creation in the era of post #MeToo Hollywood. Blurring the lines between fiction and reality, Horvat stars as a maniacal version of herself, an independent filmmaker whose obsession with completing her latest feature — a documentary exploring how she’d go about “theoretically” committing the perfect murder — brings out her inner serial killer.
A mockumentary-style film about filmmaking, I Blame Society is a self-conscious black comedy in the tradition of Man Bites Dog. And, much like Eugene Kotlyarenko’s recent Spree (where Stranger Things’s Joe Keery is a killer rideshare driver live streaming his rampage for views), Horvat’s homicidal spiral into madness is a desperate attempt at recognition in a media landscape oversaturated with self-representation. On top of that, the film sneers at the notion that #MeToo has brought about any real material change whatsoever, especially for independent female filmmakers. Instead, the movement has been absorbed by Hollywood’s gatekeepers, turned into yet another substanceless neoliberal marketing strategy devised in board meetings and tested in PR focus groups.
What prevents the fictional Gillian from getting her career off the ground is neither a lack of talent nor the continued existence of rape culture in Hollywood. According to the two brain dead yuppie producers to whom she pitches her latest script (a satire about Israel), it’s because her protagonist isn’t “likeable” the way a “strong female protagonist” needs to be. To these two suits — who natter empty buzzwords and can’t even pronounce “intersectionality” correctly — the only thing that matters is the profitability of a female-led and female-directed film. Its content is incidental. Behind every “strong female lead,” the film suggests, is a focus group of studio investors eager to capitalize on #MeToo as an empowering cultural trend.
It’s worth noting that I Blame Society first began life as an unfinished documentary project about whether or not Horvat would make a good murderer, as claimed by friends. The original documentary, footage from which is integrated into the film, gives us Horvat interviewing friends and relatives about her alleged homicidal traits in locations typically associated with murder, such as the middle of the woods or the docks. She never completed the short, but as she worked on it Horvat realized that the same qualities that make a great director curiously overlap with those that make a great serial killer: meticulous planning and forethought, a commitment to the vision, and the ability to execute it (no pun intended). Three years after abandoning the short, Horvat resurrected the project, reworking it into a feature length lampoon at her producers’ encouragement.
I Blame Society initially feels less like a movie than it does an assortment of found-footage edited together. But as the story — and the fictional Gillian’s insanity—escalates, it turns into a digital fever dream reminiscent of David Lynch’s Inland Empire. Found-footage style films have acquired a well-earned reputation for being cheap, both in the sense of their production value and hokey execution. I Blame Society is definitely low-budget, but it doesn’t exploit the gimmick of found-footage to cut corners. To Horvat’s credit, she shows herself setting up an assortment of cameras: webcams, her phone, a high-definition digital camera borrowed from her cinematographer friend, a GoPro strapped to her head. There isn’t a single shot that’s established without us seeing Horvat physically interacting with a camera that is often visibly present in a scene. This makes for some great sight gags, the silliest of which has Gillian rig a camera up to a homemade dolly she works with one arm like an Italian organ grinder with a dancing monkey.
The gag signals that I Blame Society intends to be more of quirky social satire than a schlocky B-movie gore-fest a’la The Driller KIller or Maniac. The murder set pieces are constrained by the restrictions of low-budget filmmaking (the CGI blood splatter looks incredibly cheap and the absence of practical gore effects is a personal letdown). Still, Horvat makes up for some of the film’s technical and stylistic shortcomings through the sheer relatability of her character. Gillian is clearly an emotionally manipulative person beset with some serious issues. She displaces her own worst qualities through an irrational hatred of her creative partner Chase’s (Chase Williamson) girlfriend, sardonically referred to as “Stalin,” whom she decides would make the perfect murder victim in her film. “Likeable” Gillian isn’t, but her frustration with the film industry and its lack of support for independent female filmmakers like herself speaks to anyone who has ever dealt with imposter syndrome. As she tells her boyfriend Keith (Keith Paulson), “I feel like I’m close. Maybe that’s what all delusional people say.”
That line brings up Horvat’s greatest asset as a low-budget filmmaker: her ability to write mordantly funny dialogue, which is hardly surprising given her previous work with Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters. Horvat’s comic verbiage ranges from awkward deadpan to tongue-in-cheek scrutiny of current pop culture clichés. She takes cutting jibes at #GirlBoss feminism (“Lean in, baby”) and the myth of American meritocracy (“Even though I have a master’s degree, I can’t find any full time work that I’m qualified for”). The meta-component of I Blame Society adds an additional layer of lampooning, with the film anticipating its own likely reception as “Weird Frances Ha.” And then there is the earlier remarked “Lynchian” aspects of Gillian’s filmmaking style, displayed when she asks the homeless man she’s made her live-in accomplice to get a “big dumb piece of shit wrapped in plastic” out of her car. He walks into the house with the corpse of a blonde girl slung over his shoulder.
Horvat is definitely a talent to be watched. Given a bigger budget and greater resources, she has the potential to be a cult filmmaker on par with Anna Biller or Mary Harron. I Blame Society may put off those looking for a sleek #MeToo satire, but it is a fun little B-movie with killer insight and attitude to spare.
Nicole Veneto graduated from Brandeis University with an MA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, concentrating on feminist media studies. Her writing has been featured in MAI Feminism & Visual Culture, Film Matters Magazine, and Boston University’s Hoochie Reader.