Runs Fri., June 28–Thurs., July 4 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 97 minutes.
Formerly based in Seattle, writer/director Calvin Reeder will be introducing his new trailer-trash picaresque, which is steeped in the horror flicks and road movies of the early ’70s. Dermot Mulroney plays the nameless, enigmatic drifter who leaves jail, quits his job at the pawn shop, and forsakes his meth-head buddies in the desert. Maybe there’s a job on his brother’s ranch in Oregon, maybe he’s on a spiritual quest, or maybe it doesn’t matter. The Rambler is being tracked by UFOs or drones high in the sky, unless they’re a figment of his imagination. He never removes his dark glasses. He smokes a lot. He plays a little guitar. He gets hustled into a hobo-fighting competition. Later he thumbs a ride with a mad scientist who keeps mummies in the back of his wagon. The scientist has a device, messily assembled from military surplus, “that records dreams to VHS.” What he doesn’t tell customers, however, is that it can also cause their heads to explode.
For Reeder, one senses, texture matters much more than story logic. This is a hallucinatory lost world of truck stops and dream girls, where Satanic rituals and apocalyptic visions abruptly pierce the dusty Americana. (You half-expect Charles Manson to show up.) With its Polaroid cameras, sun flares on the lens, and pay phones, The Rambler reaches back to a transitional time in American cinema, when Two Lane Blacktop, David Cronenberg shockers, and Roger Corman exploitation movies all played the same drive-in. The Rambler is like a feverish distillation of all those fixations. It’s not exactly a head-trip movie in the old LSD sense, but the Rambler himself is traveling between the zones of the real and the unreal. He could be a ghost, for all we know, or an Orpheus-like figure on an underworld quest. His motto: “My only true home is the highway.” He keeps moving, and The Rambler likewise refuses to settle into any polite, safe genre.