Born to Ruin (2014)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the Reel Indie Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit http://reelindiefilmfest.com/ and follow the event on Twitter at @RIFF_Toronto.
Every person is different. Every relationship is unique, with its own ups and downs, its own intricacies and complexities. Any group has its own dynamics that are worked out over time, its own ways of functioning, its own definition of functional. Everybody has a story, and no two stories are alike. All of these things are fairly obvious on the surface. And yet, Born to Ruin exists, and manages to sand away individuality and distinctiveness in favor of turning its subjects, the band Wildlife, into an endless series of clichés.
Ostensibly about the group’s efforts to record its second album, On the Heart, the film is a supposed expose about the difficulties of studio life.
Ostensibly about the group’s efforts to record its second album, On the Heart, the film is a supposed expose about the difficulties of studio life. And yet the things it manages to capture are so facile, so obvious, and so well documented elsewhere, the film barely feels like it is capturing reality at all. Born to Ruin feels more like a really bad film about a band than anything that has the color and depth of real life. It trades in the tropes of behind-the-scenes bands, filling its slim runtime with a series of inanities and platitudes that offer little to anyone who has ever read a long Wikipedia article about a rock band.
It trades in the tropes of behind-the-scenes bands, filling its slim runtime with a series of inanities and platitudes that offer little to anyone who has ever read a long Wikipedia article about a rock band.
The problem isn’t with the band themselves, not by a long shot. The music of Wildlife, which we hear recorded and see performed throughout the film, is actually very good, to the point where I often wished I was watching a concert film instead. Director Brendan McCarney would likely be better suited to the “point and shoot” style that many such films employ. His direction here shifts between indifferent and spastically unaware of his subjects and the point he is trying to make about them. He fails to generate anything interesting in interviews ( “We were always friends first and a band second…sort of” is an actual line from the film, and it is far from the most obvious thing that is uttered), but even worse, he has chosen to make a film that frequently depicts studio sessions and seemingly has no idea how to shoot musicians making music. His camera lingers on producer Peter Katis listening, but seems incapable of registering anything about Katis’ emotional state, and McCarney seems utterly lost when he is shooting the band members playing their instruments. This is especially depressing when one learns McCarney has only directed musical documentaries so far. This is his third effort, and it feels like he’s making a satisfactory home movie.
There’s really no reason to see a film like Born to Ruin. The visuals add nothing, but also, the behind-the-scenes material doesn’t illuminate characters so much as backlight caricatures. Wildlife is made of real human beings with real thoughts and real problems, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the film, where they come off like any number of bands you’ve seen before. Save yourself the grief. Skip the movie, buy the record.
Born to Ruin feels more like a really bad film about a band than anything that has the color and depth of real life. Skip the movie, buy the record.