Call it weird, experimental, avant-garde, or artsy-fartsy stream-of-consciousness film school strangeness, but there's certainly something to be said for a dark indie thriller that eschews a traditional narrative in favor of something a bit more personal, abstract, and bizarre. Films like Calvin Reeder's The Rambler, for example, may shine at a film festival, but it's a rather tough sell to viewers who are looking for more traditional form of "scary stories" -- but that's not to say there's no room for the cinematic oddities.
What's indecipherable to you may be strangely straightforward to another, and therein lies the beauty of art. In other words, if you're looking for a "normal" thriller about an ex-con who hitchhikes his way across the country and stumbles across all sorts of violent and unkind people, The Rambler might throw you for a loop, or even piss you off. If, on the other hand, you're open to a grungy yet weirdly cerebral film that all but scoffs at a traditional narrative structure, The Rambler may prove to be an arcane little treat.
If this was a standard indie horror movie I could describe The Rambler like so: "A quiet and inscrutable convict is released from prison and begins a long, bizarre, and very disturbing journey to his brother's farm in Oregon. Along the way our anti-hero deals with femmes fatale, tortured ghosts, mad scientists, sleazy scam artists, and super-freaky religious nuts... but the unnamed rambler may soon discover that the darkest of all the hidden evils is (dun dun dunnn) himself!"
Again, that's how I might describe The Rambler if it offered anything even remotely resembling a traditional narrative. The film starts out simply enough, but once the rambler (a calmly compelling Dermot Mulroney) begins to ramble, his back-road exploits go from disturbing to bizarre to virtually incomprehensible. And I don't mean that the movie tries to make "linear" sense but fails. I mean that Mr. Reeder is more interested in a long walk through hell as seen through the eyes of an ex-convict who generally seems sedate -- but is actually quite madly insane. Although it's never presented in a first-person perspective, The Rambler feels like a distant cousin to the new Maniac remake: horror stories told from inside the mind of a calm, cool lunatic.
Whether Reeder's style of abstract horror works for you or not, there's little denying that there's a good deal of darkly fascinating material to be found in his sophomore effort. (It seems safe to say that The Rambler is a solid step up from The Oregonian, Reeder's first cinematic experiment.) The Rambler is an intentionally strange horror flick that practically asks you to dive right in and draw your own conclusions. I'm not even certain how much I "liked" The Rambler, but it still stands as evidence of a young filmmaker who knows all about the standard horror cliches and conventions but is firmly intent on delivering them with a great deal of twisted humor, a welcome splash of shocking horror, and a willfully difficult narrative structure.
Also this: even when I had no idea what was going on, I appreciated the lovely cinematography. No joke. For an indie flick this dark, strange, and obsessed with the ugliest side of humanity... it really looks pretty!