Now with three feature films to his name as writer-director, Ted Geoghegan has carved out a nice niche for himself as a go-for-broke indie horror enthusiast. Like frequent collaborator Larry Fessenden, Geoghegan is also a producer and publicist in addition to his filmmaking, and between the two, they’ve had a hand in virtually every recent indie horror film of note (except when it comes courtesy of the esteemed Travis Stevens). There’s no glossy, “elevated” nonsense here, no “branding” a la A24, just an old-school emphasis on scares and goopy, gross-out gore gags. Which is not to say that there isn’t anything on Geoghegan’s mind — to date, his films are all either set in the past or are in direct conversation with it, and each chart, in their own peculiar way, a particularly American history of violence. Geoghegan is acutely aware that American ideals of freedom and equality are rife with hypocrisy and built on bloodshed.
His new film, Brooklyn 45, continues the director’s favorite motifs: seances, ghosts, and dark secrets coming back to plague the living. It’s Christmastime, 1945, and the great war has been over for several months. Five friends have gathered at the home of Col. Clive Hockstatter (Larry Fessenden). In addition to the Colonel, there’s Major Paul DiFranco (Ezra Buzzington), Major Archibald “Archie’ Stanton” (Jeremy Holm), and Marla Sheridan (Anne Ramsay), along with her husband, Bob (Ron Rains). Clive was everyone’s commanding officer during the war, while DiFranco and Archie carried out his orders on the field. Marla was an interrogator, and Bob is something of an outsider — a Pentagon employee who didn’t see active duty. It should be a time for celebrating, and while everyone is all smiles at first, there’s a pall hanging over the proceedings; Clive’s wife has recently died, sending him into a deep depression. Archie is under investigation for possible war crimes, a charge he vehemently denies and for which Clive and DiFranco intend to testify on his behalf. Bob is an unremarkable milquetoast type, unaware of his wife’s propensity for “enhanced” interrogation techniques and jealous of her flirty rapport with these other men. The booze flows freely, and the friendly chit-chat begins to take on a sharper, bitter edge.
Eventually, Clive reveals why he has gathered all of his friends here. In a tour de force monologue from Fessenden, Clive unleashes an outpouring of grief. He’s barely able to deal with his wife’s death, trying desperately to find solace in religion but to no avail, and has finally decided to try something supernatural — he wants to conduct a seance and try to prove that there is, in fact, an afterlife. The group is understandably reluctant; these are practical people who have just been through the worst experiences one could imagine. They don’t believe in the “beyond” or any other mumbo jumbo; to them, death is a hard, material reality. But Clive begs of them indulgence, admitting that it will likely lead to nothing, but that it can’t hurt to try. Of course, this being a horror film, it does indeed hurt to try. To give away much more of the plot would be a disservice to game viewers; much of the film’s pleasure is found in watching Geoghegan steadily raise the stakes of his closed-room, single-set parlor mystery, introducing new wrinkles and dropping occasional bits of startling violence. Suffice it to say, Clive’s wife’s death isn’t so cut and dry, and the group becomes fixated on another tenant in the building, a German immigrant who they suspect of being a Nazi or spy or both.
One of Geoghegan’s talents as a filmmaker is putting his characters into tense, even dangerous, situations and watching their true natures reveal themselves. All of his films contain plenty of supernatural elements, but they are nothing compared to the everyday, quotidian violence men inflict on themselves and others. In We Are Still Here, a married couple mourning the death of their adult son is caught in a centuries-long conspiracy involving a small town’s original sin — its prosperity was built on the murder of a family whose vengeful ghosts must be now appeased lest the town become plagued. In Mohawk, his best and most ambitious film, an indigenous woman and her British lover are hunted by vicious American soldiers who have claimed the new world as their own and believe that the native population is vermin to be exterminated.
Ezra Buzzington starred as the determined, abhorrent leader of the soldiers in Mohawk, and some of his seething hatred spills over into Brooklyn 45 as well. Buzzington portrays DiFranco as a man ostensibly following orders, but secretly delighted to be dishing out cruelty. It’s not hard to guess the truth about the charges against Archie, but what is unexpected is the weight Geoghegan gives to the character’s initial denial and ultimate acceptance of his own moral culpability. Anne Ramsey is also quite good in a difficult role, able to flummox her male friends with her charm, but also capable of manipulating them when necessary. But it’s Bob, a weak man who allows fear and cowardice to drive his actions, who provides the film’s thematic core. Geoghegan is clear-eyed about this country’s checkered past — a history littered with venal, hateful, cowardly men — and finds horror, but also catharsis, in these ghosts coming home to roost. The past is never gone and buried, but will always bubble up and demand recompense. Militarism, xenophobia, and nationalism are all still very much with us, and Geoghegan’s films are a forceful reminder that nothing good can come from such blinkered hate.
You can currently stream Brooklyn 45 on Shudder.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 23.
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