Saturday, December 14, 2013

Horror Film Review

Coyote (2013):  Where to start?  I tried writing this review last week right after watching the film but my mind went utterly blank.  I fear my brain refused to reconcile the sights and sounds it received and therefore left on holiday.  No question it's a damned odd film, and the danger with damned odd films is that style tends to overshadow substance.  Is that the case with Coyote?  Well, now that my brain's had a week to percolate on the issue, I can say with unflinching confidence...kinda.

It's like this:  Bill (Bill Oberst Jr.) fancies himself a writer; problem is, he's nuttier than a walnut grove.  He starts by trying to hand write a letter to his mother in pencil, which doesn't go well.  After he drags out an ancient manual typewriter, the words do, coincidentally, horrible nightmares in which masked men break into his house and kill him in a variety of unpleasant ways.  Sleep, he declares is the enemy; and fueled by paranoia, Bill proceeds to barricade himself in.  At one point, he smashes his thumb with a hammer and loses the nail.  While rinsing it at the kitchen sink, a naked woman with pink fingernails slinks seductively into the room and bites his thumb off.  He's now in full-on hallucination mode.  It's quite clever, actually.  After this scene, if I saw a big bandage on a stump, hallucination.  Small bandage on a full-sized digit, reality.  Honestly, it's the only way to tell.

In the real world, Bill interacts with his racist coworker Joe (Bill Finkbiner) who takes him fishing and inadvertently introduces him to the world of sportsmen weapons.  A bizarre obsession with a local home shopping channel leads Bill to Jesse (Victoria Mullen), one of the hosts who is initially sweet on him but realizes in a big goddamned hurry that her new boyfriend is crazier than a shithouse rat.  It's when Bill's gone off to live in the woods that we see how far off the rails he's run.  He's plagued by a coyote (which I'm pretty sure is a wolf) and kills it with a compound bow.  I don't know why he decides to wear the animal skin (the coyote's head atop his own) but it does make for some interesting scenes:  Bill in a fountain with kids.  Bill shoving unpaid-for snack food down his throat.  Bill wandering around a walled yard doing Hamlet.  Eventually, he snaps and does what psychos do when they snap.  His comeuppance, though, is...odd.

About the odd.  Let me run it down for you.  The viewfinder of an old VHS tape recorder becomes a vagina.  Night of the Living Dead is playing on TV (a nod to Romero).  Copious use of a fish-eye lens.  Full conversations with a talking sinkhole.  Bill briefly transforms into a giant fly (you know, if there'd been drugs and a bit of homosexuality, we'd not only have an homage to Cronenberg's The Fly, but also his Naked Lunch - one of the oddest, and grooviest, films ever made). 

The Skinny

Acting:  This film could not work without the right actor to play Bill.  Oberst is up to the job and delivers a performance that at times reminded me of Travis Bickle.  At other times, Jack Torrance.  Barely restrained menace to chewing-at-the-scenery nutjob.  To give you an idea how impressive this is, go watch Oberst's straight performance in Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.  (I stand by my statement that Daniel Day-Lewis has nothing on Oberst's Abe.)  Anyway, Mullen is quite good as the short suffering Jesse.  Finkbiner...yep, he's in there, too.
Story:  If you strip away the distracting "art-house" style and then focus, it's really just another Freudian tragedy (like the story of Norman Bates).  A guy never resolves his mommy issues and takes out his repressed rage on society. 
Direction:  Trevor Juenger helmed Coyote and obviously felt he had something to prove.  In this case, though, trying too hard wasn't detrimental to the overall project.
Production Values:  Ah, here's where we run into some trouble. The sound, lighting, and sets really let you know how low the budget was ($40,000).  However, they did the best they could with what they had.
Gore/FX:  No skimping on the blood and ick.  I'm sure the scene where he pulls off his fingernail drew a few gags and groans.  CGI was used for Bill's fly persona, and if I'm honest, it wasn't half bad.
Scares:  There are a few, but this brand of horror doesn't go for "gotcha" jumps. 
Ending:  As I said, odd.  I'm sure I missed something.  All I'll say is, who was out there with him that could have done it? 
Verdict:  Should you see Coyote?  If you're a fan of the art-house style, then it'll be right up your alley.  If you like your horror straightforward and mindless, you should probably look elsewhere. 

Rating:  3 out of 5


  1. Nate, I'm honored that you'd take the time to watch and review Coyote. Trevor Juenger is an uncompromising young filmmaker and if you think the film was strange, the shoot was even stranger. We shot in a record heat wave in St. Louis. It's all a blur.


  2. It was a pleasure. Actually, I wanted to thank you for the opportunity. Ever read Bruce Campbell's "If Chins Could Kill" about the original Evil Dead shoot? For them it was the cold. Had to chip the frozen fake blood off of Bruce every day. What you guys do for your art...