‘Coyote’ is a micro-budgeted independent feature written, directed and edited by upcoming St. Louis filmmaker the talented Trevor Juenger. Produced by Juenger’s production company Live or Die Productions it was released in December of last year distributed on all media platforms by WildEye Releasing. It is a dark and surreal art-house psychological character study starring the versatile character actor and genre favourite Bill Oberst Jr. He plays a namesake character a struggling screenwriter suffering from insomnia whose fall into a sleep-deprived hell distorts his reality with hallucinations blurring the line between what is real and what is not, driving him insane with paranoia becoming a threat to himself and a danger to everyone around him resorting to extreme acts of violence. These graphic depictions along with explicit sexual elements proved to be too much for some film festival organisers resulting in a banning from certain events. This only helped the promotion though for the horror audience who are waiting to lap up such notoriety and it received a generous amount of awards at some of the festivals where it was shown.
Bill is plagued by nightmares about people murdering him while he sleeps presumably brought on by the anxieties of his chosen career path where aspirations and the fear of failure go hand in hand. Therefore, as the tagline states, “sleep is the enemy”, because he tries everything he can do to stay awake that only ruptures his state of mind further. We see the gradual escalation of Bill’s madness when he is alone with self-introspection and as he interacts with the rest of the cast that makes for cringe making viewing… in an interesting good kind of way. He tries to conform with people like with the racist Joe (Bill Finkbiner) who he works with for his daytime delivery job to make ends meet and then he gets a job at a local TV shopping channel where he meets presenter Jesse (Victoria Mullen) and they embark of an ill-fated relationship. This builds to a horrific bloody rampage.
That is it there is not much here in the way of narrative structure and more or less is a plotless affair existing more as an avant-garde palate of the dark recesses of the human consciousness. When we meet Bill, he is already deep into his psychosis and the audience is hit with a mindfuck assault in insanity as the viewer is subjected to startling and unsettling nightmarish gory visuals. Although, there is often an underlying twisted sense of humour in much of what Bill sees in his mind.
Trevor Juenger displays a huge influence by David Cronenberg here akin to the great filmmaker’s 1991 William S. Burroughs adaptation ‘Naked Lunch’ in an exploration of isolation as the solitary mind of creative writer Bill disconnects himself from society and therefore the realities of life and as a consequence descends into the madness of self-hatred and hatred towards other human beings. The imagery of body horror with - SPOILER ALERT - The Fly-esque transformation of Bill into an insect-like alien ripping off his flesh, the Videodrome-esque moments when the lens of a camera turns into a vagina that Bill masturbates and a knife that he pulls out of his penis with great agony - END OF SPOILER - is straight up Cronenbergian. The special make-up effects here are excellent and the darkly lit cinematography by Nick Brian Walters and Michel Schiralli’s soundtrack with a cocktail of piano ting and synthesizer encapsulates the proceedings in a cold atmosphere that chills to the bone.
Oberst Jr. narrates his character’s batshit crazy behaviour with riveting monologues and his intense performance is enthralling to watch as he throws himself into the role of this mentally disturbed loner with ferocious gusto for the deranged material. It is a bold and gutsy turn and a real highlight of his career. With the exceptions of Finkbiner and Mullen the rest of the cast are not too effective but it is only to be expected of a production of this nature and they achieve in what is asked of them as they have little to do and as the focus is on the central performance it is not a major distraction. While the dark lighting does induce that cold atmosphere it is just a little too dark in some scenes to make out what is going on, and while the sound design is effective in the noises of actions the actors often sound like their speaking their lines into a tin cup. These are just minor gripes though that does not lessen the overall viewing experience.
While not perfect this is definitely a worthwhile investigation for genre cinema fans looking for something more unconventional and experimental, and this achieves in what it sets out to do and should satisfy its target audience. I cannot recommend the film to anyone looking for a horror with a more typical cinematic narrative that strives for story, traditional scares, suspense and tension as this has not been designed that way for mass commercial appeal. Although fans of Bill Oberst Jr. might want to seek it out regardless, as his immense presence is abundant here and the championing star of independent horror continues to impress with his dedication to his roles no matter the quality of the material he works with. This just so happens to be a quality effort though complementing that hard work and talent. Juenger is a filmmaker with much potential to go on to bigger and greater things who I would like to see working with a bigger budget and more resources at his disposal to make a bridge to fully realizing that potential.
There is much to appreciate in ‘Coyote’ both thematically and stylistically and it is a curious oddity that will keep its niche demographic engaged right until the very end with a dark, grim, grotesque, uncomfortable yet strangely humorous at times trip into the deepest darkest depths of the human psyche. You can purchase or rent the film on VOD from WildEye Releasing here.
*** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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