kailey’s review published on Letterboxd:
i think that the best part of the whole movie- an eerily timed conversation between the protagonist and steven yeun about greenhouses- also crystalizes my major problem with this. as in the movie makes it really, really obvious to me that yeun is not only up to something rather not fantastic but also that the greenhouse is a really clear "metaphor" for the events that follow.
supposedly shrouded in ambiguity, i ultimately think that the beautiful cinematography and haunting performances cover up something... pretty vapid? the movie's main message (to me) is that a poor person down on his luck will naturally be jealous of a rich, good-looking man who seems to be bestowed with everything he wants. a lot of the film- whether it be the "great hunger", the brief trump cameo on tv, the curious last shot of the two men together almost in a (violent) embrace- seems to be hinting towards something deeper, something more interesting about poverty and classism and the relationships between the fortunate and unfortunate.
then, it just never goes any deeper and it never actually ends up with anything for me to grasp onto.
and of course, because he's jealous of this man, the protagonist spirals into paranoia that's supposed to be this great "okay, did he or didn't he" sort of mystery. except the movie plays it's hand way too often for me in confirming that yeun is in fact very bad news and probably did in fact do what the protagonist thinks he did. granted, there's some interesting commentary in there about obsession and morals- doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. but also i've seen this. a billion times. in a billion other movies.
not only is the movie about classism, it's about masculinity and misogyny. and again it seems to feint towards actually y'know... doing something with this... without posing any concrete message or questions. it's a fine line between critiquing the male gaze and just kinda basking in it. i'm not convinced that this movie doesn't parachute over that line. the main female character in this is not clearly defined enough for us to feel the repercussions of the rather (appalling) way the protagonist treats her. we're given some indication that her cutesy mannerisms may be a coverup for something, something darker and deeper... which never goes anywhere. and that beautiful dance she does naked in the middle of the movie- why was it there? it didn't feel meaningful or deep, it felt like a reason to have an attractive woman naked on screen.
this is based on a short story called "barn burning", which seems to be much more concerned with the sinister nature of small, unimportant events. that's something that's heavily present in the movie and done quite well for the first hour or so. i can't help but feel like the extras the director added in to make this more important just don't do anything for the film. i'm left fascinated but utterly cold.