Editor’s Note: Entertainment opened in limited theatrical release November 13, 2015.
Rick Alverson seems to have, as a director, mastered the art of unease. 2012’s The Comedy gave us a glimpse at this mastery, as the incredibly funny Tim Heidecker was given a character defined solely by his inability to display empathy, thus perpetually existing in an endless void of profanities. The absurd lengths this trait went to managed to produce both enjoyably uncomfortable laughs and, possibly in greater abundance, a disturbing fascination with the untold aspects of his personality. Now, Rick Alverson has brought us Entertainment, an unapologetic force of nature that examines the relationship between vulnerability and obscenity in a way that is simultaneously nightmarish and poetic.
Rick Alverson seems to have, as a director, mastered the art of unease.
Gregg Turkington stars as a fictionalized version of his real comedian alter-ego, Neil Hamburger, who wanders the Mojave Desert. His destination is a gig for some Hollywood types, but he takes his sweet time getting there, driving from one dive bar to another, alienating his audiences in a seemingly endless state of depression. He calls his daughter every night before bed, always leaving voicemails consisting of whispered sadness, but never conversing. For that matter, he converses with practically nobody. It’s the nature of the desert he exists in, he undoubtedly assumes, silently observing the dry husks of crashed cars and other such things scattered throughout the sand. He’s not sure how to feel what he’s feeling, but nevertheless, he does.
Soon, however, he sees an opportunity for help, pursues it, and learns to process what’s going through his head, though somehow, this only makes things worse. He begins to observe his surroundings with less of a lifeless intrigue and more of a rampant confusion. Now, instead of feeling like he doesn’t fully comprehend or find comfort in his surroundings, he thinks they’re unappreciative, hostile, and animalistic. Suddenly, he feels more alone than he’s ever felt. Too alone, in fact. From there, he spirals down, down, down into psychological ruin. His shows start to become pathetically unintelligible cries for help, and he slowly loses himself until, at the very least, he feels he is nothing.
Entertainment…grabs you, hypnotizes you, removes you from your comfort zone, and assaults you. . .
Gregg Turkington plays this character perfectly, and that’s not an exaggeration. Only during his incredibly vulnerable moments do we get a glimpse at what he’s thinking, allowing for paranoia to settle in. It’s similar to the “Don’t Show the Monster” technique that The Blair Witch Project employs for its horror, but instead used to amplify how terrified we are by what’s going on in Turkington’s mind. Alverson and cinematographer Lorenzo Hagerman place Gregg in a beautifully sprawling wasteland that often looks downright gorgeous, and is accompanied by a very formal soundtrack that lets Alverson and Hagerman’s visual poetry stand at the forefront, unobscured and ready to hypnotize.
And, that is what Entertainment does. It grabs you, hypnotizes you, removes you from your comfort zone, and assaults you with the audiovisual materials you need in order to feel instinctually mortified at the disappearance of a human. You feel as if you’ve visited Hell, making Rick Alverson not only the master of the waking nightmare, but also this generation’s David Lynch.
Entertainment features a fine performance by Gregg Turkington, and showcases director Rick Alverson's continued ability to craft a touching and nightmarish look at the relationship between vulnerability and obscenity.