Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our inscrutable whims. This week: 2021 is about half over, so we’re looking back on the best movies released this year that we didn’t review.
Calling a woman “crazy” is a loaded proposition in 2021, and Gillian Wallace Horvat is banking on that. She’s also banking on stereotypes of millennials as entitled narcissists, and of white women as harmless, helpless victims. Most of all, she’s betting that film-industry peans to “strong female characters,” “underrepresented voices,” and “intersectionality”—or, as one scruffy trust-fund producer type calls it, “intersexuality”—are fundamentally dishonest. All of these tensions are in play in the messy, inspired, biting black comedy I Blame Society, Horvat’s debut feature as a director, co-writer, and star. In real life, Horvat is a prolific producer and director of documentary shorts. But in the film, “Gillian” is a struggling filmmaker who’s decided that her last chance at success is to revive what she rather menacingly refers to as her “I, Murderer project.”
Shot in a found-footage style but without the pretense that the footage was actually found, I Blame Society recalls the 1992 Belgian mockumentary Man Bites Dog, where a camera crew filming the activities of a serial killer is seduced by the pleasure he takes in his “work.” The two films are similar in that both take the personality traits of a psychopath and use them as fuel for dark humor: The Gillian in the film pushes the aphorism about “taking risks for your art” to amoral extremes, and takes all the wrong lessons from pop-feminist empowerment rhetoric. (“Lean in, baby!”, she yells, holding her selfie stick in front of her as she decides it’s time to up the stakes.) She also can’t understand why everyone gets so weird when she says she’s working on a film about murdering her best friend’s girlfriend and getting away with it. So what if she’s crawling around strangers’ bedrooms in the middle of the night with a GoPro strapped to her head like a postmodern Manson girl? It’s for her art! As she whines to her boyfriend Keith (Keith Poulson) midway through the film, “You don’t think I’ll ever make a movie. You don’t think I could kill somebody. You don’t believe that I can do anything!”
Her personality is off-putting, to say the least. But Gillian is very good at one thing, and that’s manipulating people. She’s a walking bundle of red flags, but she so effectively changes the subject every time one appears that it takes him longer than you might think to leave her, asking her to promise that “no movie is worth hurting someone” on his way out the door. (She declines.) An inexplicable death tied to Gillian is waved away by an investigating officer once she starts crying, and the fake suicide notes she leaves at the scenes of her crimes are pitched just so that the friends and families of the victims buy into the ruse. The shallow absurdity of those notes—one woman “writes” that she’s killing herself because she’s just too pretty to live—takes aim at the vapidity of Hollywood, as does the obnoxious tourist getup Gillian wears when she’s going “undercover.”
But what makes I Blame Society sharper and more memorable than just another disaffected screed is the fact that Horvat aims much of her satire at herself. Some of Gillian’s victims deserve it, but some of them don’t. And who is this unemployable nobody to say who deserves to live and who deserves to die, anyway? An artist high on her own delusions, that’s who. And to make a low-budget movie like I Blame Society—let alone put it out into the world with the confidence necessary to get anyone to notice—that’s kind of what you have to be.