ACIDEMIC Journal of Film and Media

Plain Dirty
HOME / #8: Brecht, Godard, Wood
#7: The Nordics
#6: Sex and the French
#5 Sympathy for the Devil
#4: Spotlight on the Spotless Mind Issue
#3: Mecha-Medusa and the Otherless Child
#2: Masculinity in Crisis Issue
#1: Drunk Feminism Issue
Submission Guidelines
Acidemic Films / Videos
Contact Us
Ze Staff

AKA "Briar Patch" (2003)


By Erich Kuersten
From the box art you may be tempted to pass this one off as one of the endless Zalman King-style infidelity and revenge sex flicks that are the new version of the old drive inn filler. But this is good stuff, actually, something fans of Jane Campion’s The Piano will like better than either her Holy Smoke or In the Cut. Newcomer director Zev Berman and newcomer screenwriter Deborah Pryor have conjured up a mystical swamp environment that augments what amounts to nothing less than a genuine psychosexual feminist fairy tale, the type where the frog suitor of the imprisoned princess shows no signs of ever being a prince, but if she looks at her chains the right way they sparkle like jewels and a beautiful castle lies hidden in the dirt and squalor of her prison. Dominique Swain stars as Inez MacBeth (yeah, there’s Shakespeare connotations), the desirable young bride of local loser Edgar (Henry Thomas, aka little Elliot from E.T.) whose friend the creepy Flowers (Arie Verveen) is infatuated with her, even stealing her flip flops for god knows what kinky purpose. Karen Allen is great as the “witch” who lives in a big house down the way, who predicts Inez’s true love will soon ride to her rescue. Inez assumes she means her pale, rich boy in town (James Urbaniak) who looks vaguely like a marionette just waiting for someone with the raw humanity of Inez to turn him into a human. What follows involves murder, desire, suspicion and double-crossing, but what makes it succeed is all that groovy archetypal mythic resonance, ala the female’s journey to adulthood, which one hardly finds in films these days, not since The Piano anyway. There’s lots of that good old southern fried gothic po’ poetical dialogue, and symbolic metaphors like blindness, chains, and headless chickens.
Thankfully, visionary directors and writers like Berman and Pryor are finally starting to realize these low budget sex pot indies can be used as more than just wastes of drunken late night cable viewers’ time. They take a typical swamp and cut off shorts exploitation set up ala Gator Bait, Poor White Trash, or Mudhoney, and then go off the deep end with it, into Kentucky-Freud Gothic grandeur. There’s a great, scraping viola and cello score by Nathan Barr, and dark, steamy cinematography by Scott Keven, both of whom worked, along with Verveen, on that last great entry in the redneck genre, Cabin Fever (2002). Keven doesn’t waste any chance to capture muted swampy sunlight trying to break through the filthy windows of these muddy shacks. The performances are all wonderful, especially Verveen’s, who manages to be believable while being simultaneously dirty, poetic, sneaky, charming, and oh so creepy as he woos Inez with lines like: “I wanna see what you look like when you grow old. Is you gonna grow gray or what?” Swain’s untamed Lolita-like energy makes her a believable force of girl nature, running around in her cut off shorts (nowhere near as short as Daisy Duke’s, alas) and cut up, dirty legs, or a filthy summer frock. The big bow should probably go to Thomas though, as Edgar he manages to give one of the best abusive husband performances ever. His rage is shocking to himself, and deluded attempts to try and forgive or justify his own actions come off as false even to him, driving him further into a spiral of rage and self-hatred projected in all directions. Sexy, brutal, funny, well-paced, well written, and turned into something truly mythic and magical thanks to a great writing, moody score and cinematography, Plain Dirty is one of the reasons why taking risks on the straight to video shelves sometimes pays off. It did make the film festival rounds (premiering at Slamdance) with the artsier title of Briar Patch, but its distributor, Screen Media Ventures, obviously didn’t have much faith in it for widescreen release. Oh well, you should, and Jane Campion should take a lesson. The DVD includes an audio commentary track and the 26 minute short film made by the director and screenwriter prior to this, with a similar mood, locale, and grim fairy tale resonance (it’s also pretty great) called Angelmaker (1998). Let’s hope word gets around about this easy-to-dismiss-based-on-the-box-art gem, and that Berman and Pryor are able to continue their association for a long and richly textured while.


c. 2004

C. 2013 - Acidemic Journal of Film and Media - BFG LCS: 489042340244