There is not a single phrase more loathsome in the English language than "strong female lead". As such, it's hard not to take projects that explore that idea, even through a satirical lens, without a grain of salt. Short film director/writer/producer Gillian Wallace Horvat self-reflexively explores this in her new film 'I Blame Society', which, despite its unevenness, contains moments as brilliant as the film's protagonist thinks she herself is.
It would be easy to mistake 'I Blame Society' for a documentary in its first 20 minutes, as the film opens on Horvat playing (hopefully) a fictionalised version of herself. Bordering on Miranda July levels of quirky, she is a struggling filmmaker taken seriously by no one in her life - not even her boyfriend Keith (Keith Poulson, 'Her Smell'). Both versions of Horvat have a string of short films to their name, enough to get her foot in the door but not to keep it open. When her feature-length film pitch is rejected and she is fired by her manager, Horvat (the fictional version) finds herself - as most egotistical artists do - turning to previous compliments and old passion projects as support. It just so happens that Horvat's friends think she would be excellent at planning the perfect murder, and it's not long before her love for filmmaking and a newfound penchant for bloodshed combine.
It should go without saying that the humour in 'I Blame Society' is very tongue-in-cheek, particularly when Horvat remarks to a homeless man that she thought he may have once been a child star. The film-within-a-film bit has been done countless times, and she is acutely aware of this fact. Horvat has stated in articles that the film's obvious micro-budget was a tough restriction to work around, but it is actually something 'I Blame Society' greatly benefits from. It allows both versions of Horvat to display their apparent brilliance and natural talent for filmmaking with such finite resources. The mid- to low-quality of many shots is a great move and heightens the reality of the film. GoPros strapped to Horvat's head act as another running gag, and just when you think Horvat is cheating with how much coverage she is able to get, a second or third camera can be seen in the shot, such as an iPhone leaning against a vase. Despite this, there are moments where the moviemaking sheen wears on the effectiveness of the film's gimmick - the very opening scene contains frequent cuts for slightly closer angles; this would've worked much better as a single take, or even with awkward zooms in on each character instead of cuts. Horvat remarks that there is someone behind the camera in this scene, so the setup feels awkward.
'I Blame Society' has an awareness of the limits of its concept and this shows in its 88 minute runtime, but even that feels like a slog.
What ultimately hamstrings the film is how unbelievably Horvat gets away with it all. I have no trouble suspending my disbelief that she is smart enough to evade capture or even suspicion of those around her, but some of the murders begin to become downright sloppy, especially when many are posited as suicides. Perhaps by design, 'I Blame Society' also doesn't fully distinguish itself far enough away from which version Horvat is the more egotistical one. At the risk of sounding like the ridiculous, faux-concerned studio execs who Horvat deals with (Lucas Kavner, TV's 'Orange is the New Black' and Morgan Krantz, TV's 'Better Call Saul'), it's difficult to buy her as a self-important mad genius and not simply mad with her own self-importance. It makes for a viewing experience that is both entertaining and extremely grating. 'I Blame Society' clearly has an awareness of the limits of its concept and this shows in its 88-minute runtime, but even that feels like a slog considering how much of the film is dedicated to stroking Horvat's ego, fictional or otherwise.
Fascinating portraits of an ego unchecked are common in films with male protagonists, and there's a freeing element to seeing a woman take the unhinged helm this time around. Unfortunately, for all the self-awareness Horvat jams into her debut feature film, she doesn't account for her own ego amongst it all. If a gender-flipped crossover of 'Nightcrawler' and 'Spree' sounds like your cup of tea, look no further than 'I Blame Society.'