Somewhere up there in heaven (or hell) Samuel Beckett and Henry David Thoreau are tipping their coffee cups towards Trevor Juras’ The Interior.
For a first feature, this film is not only fully realized and confident, but has a deep understanding of the form and medium in which it chooses to tell its tale. Camera movement tells the story, accentuates the comedy, and exudes a show-don’t-tell savvy that feels the work of a very experienced filmmaker.
Varied meanings, interpretations and musing can be found in this simple story of a man going a bit crazy in the deep woods, but it is difficult to fully reflect upon such things between the comedy and the horror during the film because the experience is so immersive and engaging. I imagine any filmmaker would love to jump onto the independent film scene, in any country, with something this beautiful and vibrant and cultivated. Most horror comedies make the horrific elements pretty funny; Juras boldly goes the other way and makes the comedy of James’ situation horrific.
Twenty-something office worker James has ‘Brain Fog.’ Possibly it is a quieter, Canadian, variant of ‘Brain Cloud,’ the ailment that got Tom Hanks motivated towards living again, dancing under the moon in the tropics, and kissing Meg Ryan in Joe Vs. The Volcano. James is entrenched in typical go-nowhere but pay check employment in the city with its collection of narcissistic bosses (both white collar and blue collar) indifferent co-workers and banal working conditions.
The first act of The Interior is dense with sight gags and hilarious character bits. James is nothing if not self-aware of the inane emptiness of his life, his condo and his surroundings, and without nodding to the camera he nevertheless projects a ‘can you believe this crap’ weariness reminiscent of Martin Freeman in BBCs The Office.
Of course, being aware is as much a curse as a boon. It does nothing for the trembling hands, numb fingers and double vision. So he smokes a joint, quietly and awkwardly leaves his girlfriend, apartment, and by extension his life, which has fallen into the funk of sitting in bed, recording the occasional rap track or sketch comedy and, tellingly in a nod towards Fight Club, sampling finger-in-the-jar dollops from his fridge full of condiments. He pleads to his soon to be estranged girlfriend for “the opposite of all this,” even though it is clear that opposite in this case is difficult to pin down. So with minimal gear and even less of a plan, James retreats into the forest for some quiet, stress-free solitude to rethink his existence.
But the universe in The Interior is a cruel one, and it seems the dense, damp forest to which James retreats is populated with other lost souls wandering in the darkness and jumping at shadows. The forest is a gorgeous yet grim reflection of James’ self, albeit it seems callously indifferent in its psychological torture and the film, while remaining uncomfortably funny, undergoes a radical tonal shift from trivial, above it all sarcasm, to deep in the thick of it paranoia.
The turn comes early into his forest retreat, where James breaks into a cabin, steals a hot shower and a bottle of wine, and leaves a thank-you note signed “Jesus.” There is karmic comeuppance for James’ subtle, holier-than-thou attitude. I will let you in on a secret: While Canadians have a reputation of being polite, and saying sorry a lot, there is a cruel and surreptitious streak of narcissism in the Canadian psyche that Juras captures brilliantly.
Patrick McFadden, who is the centre of this nearly one-man show, can communicate reluctance, frustration, fear or anger – and sometimes combinations of these – with very subtle gestures, it is a silent movie performance worthy of the classics of early cinema. James’ dreams of one-upping his boss, and his nightmares of being swallowed by the forest, play like short silent comedies in and of themselves, replete with elegant Chopin musical accompaniment.
As James settles into the night after day rhythms of his new wilderness existence, he slowly realizes that his sullen head-space is not going to be solved by running away, because assholes are everywhere, even in the deep forest, and if there is only one person, well hey, you might be just be the asshole. The comedy (and the horror) of the film is the nature that the slow escalating of little things slowly whittle away his sanity.
The Interior is an existential passion play of paper cuts. It encourages us to laugh at the absurdity of the universe casually shitting stardust and raindrops on mortal man as he squanders his youth in a fit of narcissistic hubris. James cries out “God. God! GOD!” into the wilderness but nobody answers, and that is pretty goddamn funny.