Like a cross between Taxi Driver and The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, Crave visualizes the headspace of an inner-city creep using gory, over-the-top fantasy sequences in which wrongdoers are shot point blank, boors get decapitated, and rescued damsels give impromptu blowjobs. The imagery bubbling in its wannabe vigilante’s brain is full of violent machismo and porn-like sex; it pinpoints the ugliness that lurks in every story of a loner itching to take on the big bad urban nightmare. After all, isn’t the old familiar Death Wish fantasy of gunning down rapists just a rape fantasy inverted?
Because Crave amounts to a feature-length critique of vigilante-hero movies, and since it nails so much about the sub-genre, it’s a shame that director and co-writer Charles De Lauzirika pulls his punches when it comes to race. Setting a movie with only two black speaking parts (both unnamed) in Detroit, a city where four out of every five people are black, stinks of a cop-out. This goes double for a movie where the main character is a white male who is convinced that the city around him will collapse without his personal, violent intervention. (Strangely, part of the film was shot in Chicago, which results in a shot where an automated voice announces that a train’s next station is Joe Louis Arena while Marina City flashes by in the background.)
Instead of the race angle, De Lauzirika takes aim at the genre’s gender dynamics—that way in which young women in peril—perennial motivators of movie vigilantism—become objectified in crime-fighter narratives. The self-styled hero is Aiden (Josh Lawson), a freelance photographer with a skeevy portfolio that consists almost entirely of grisly murder victims (all female) and pin-up nudes. Aiden sees violence and harassment against women everywhere he goes, and imagines himself coming to their rescue. Usually, these scenarios end with the women servicing him. They’re sexual power fantasies dressed up in guilt-free good-guy drag. Complicating all of this is the fact that Aiden knows that the fantasies are unhealthy and confides in his AA buddy Pete (Ron Perlman) that he’s getting “squirrelly.”
Genre critiques tend to get so sucked into the genre that they end up undermining themselves. Crave mostly dodges this. It’s about the idea of vigilantism, but isn’t strictly speaking a vigilante movie. Aiden never solves, or stops any crimes, though he does end up committing a few fairly serious ones. This approach isn’t without its flaws, however. Since so much of it takes place in Aiden’s head, the movie must continually objectify women. When it ventures into the real world (or half-real, since the “real” action is often overlaid with Aiden’s multi-tracked, Radiolab-esque narration), it doesn’t do much with its female characters—most notably Aiden’s next door neighbor and dream girl, Virginia (Emma Lung)—besides acknowledging that, yes, they are more than just vehicles for rescue and sex. The result is provocatively stated, though imperfect.