Film Review: Fang (dir by Richard Burgin)

Poor Billy.

Billy (Dylan LaRay) lives in Chicago and, at first glance, he’s typical of the many anonymous young men who we see everyday, working in dead-end jobs and just trying to make it day-to-day without having to deal with too much trouble.  Billy works at a meatpacking plant, for a condescending boss who brags about being able to pay his daughter’s Princeton tuition while, at the same time, telling Billy that he needs to work harder sweeping up the place.  “Do you think my daughter got into Princeton by taking sick days?” the boss asks, not seeming to realize that Billy will never be going to Princeton regardless of how many hours he spends pushing his broom around the warehouse.  Indeed, Billy dropped out of school a few years ago.  His mother, Gina (Lynn Lowry of I Drink Your Blood and Crazies fame), is suffering from Parkinson’s-related dementia and Billy is constantly rushing home to check on her.  Billy never knows if he’s going to be embraced or attacked when he steps through his front door.  Billy takes a daily regimen of pills to keep his mind stable.  He obsessively washes and sanitizes his hands.  He needs everything to be in its proper place but he lives in an increasingly chaotic and unpredictable world.

The one thing that Billy has going for him is that he’s an artist.  He’s created an entire fictional world through his drawings, one in which a group of people escape from a dying Earth but then continue to make the exact same mistakes in their new home.  His mother’s maid, Myra (Jess Paul), even suggests that Billy should try to get his work published but Billy is resistant.  His art is his escape and, though it’s never specifically stated, one gets the feeling that it’s an escape that he wants to keep only for himself.  If Billy ever gets out of this world, he’s not planning on taking anyone along with him.

Billy is haunted by the things that he sees as he walks to and from work.  Death, whether represented by a dead rodent under a car or by the run-down neighborhood in which he lives, seems to be all-around.  After a rat invades his room and bites him, Billy is rushed to the hospital and, despite his frantic protests, he’s injected with the rabies vaccine.  (The film’s use of rabies and it’s close-up of a hypodermic needle piercing Billy’s skin will remind some viewers of another Lynn Lowry film, I Drink Your Blood.)  Whenever Billy is alone, he sees a hole growing on his arm, one that is full of coarse hair, almost as if there is something living within Billy’s skin.  Fang mixes Cronenbergian body horror with visions of Romero-style urban decline.  Billy’s Chicago is almost as run-down and bleak as Romero’s Philadelphia was in Martin.  The stark imagery leaves little doubt that Billy, at the young age of 23, has basically advanced as far as he’s going to advance in the world.  He’s hit a dead end and Billy’s sudden visions of open wounds, vacuous comedians, and rats would seem to suggest that, if there is another world out there, it’s not much of an improvement on the one in which Billy is leaving.  Much like the characters in his artwork, Billy is trapped in a never-ending cycle of mistakes and decay.  

Fang is a well-directed, well-acted, and well-visualized portrayal of life on the fringes of society, one that captures both the timeless theme of loneliness and the uniquely paranoid atmosphere of today.  Though the COVID fears of the past two years are never explicitly mentioned, it’s hard not to think of them as Billy obsessively washes and sanitizes his hands and as he panics over getting the rabies shot.  Billy, like so many people today, feels lost and powerless and even his fantasy of escape is tempered by the knowledge that a fantasy can still go wrong.  Dylan LaRay does a good job of capturing Billy’s fear and his anger and Jess Paul is sympathetic as one of the few people to actually cares about what Billy and his mother are going through.  Lynn Lowry steals the film, playing Billy’s mother as someone who is both frightening and heart-breakingly sad.  Much like Billy, she’s no longer is control of her fears and her actions.  Fang is a film that captures the horrors of everyday life.


One response to “Film Review: Fang (dir by Richard Burgin)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 12/12/22 — 12/18/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

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