Aaron Gaffey - Jack
Amber Benson - Ella
Jeremiah Birkett - Buzz
Devin Barry - Mo
Travis Betz - Herman
Mike C. Nelson - Keith
Al Burke - Mr. Lizard
Ezra Buzzington - Sheriff Haggler
Genre - Action/Adventure/Comedy/Exploitation
Running Time - 93 Minutes
Jack (Aaron Gaffey) is a one-eyed former soldier who has traded that life for one of tranquility. He does odd jobs to occupy the time, while hanging out with his Native American inspired friend, Mo (Devin Barry). One day, a young mother named Ella (Amber Benson) needs help with a plumbing issue and calls Jack for help. The two instantly connect, but there's a problem - Ella has an absentee husband named Herman (Travis Betz) who would rather get high off of his ass than spend time with his wife or young baby daughter.
When Herman doesn't have the money to pay off his drug dealer, the weird and twisted Buzz (Jeremiah Birkett), Ella pleads with Jack and Mo to help him get it settled. When Jack tries to make a peaceful deal with Buzz by paying off some of Herman's tab, Buzz threats them by using Ella and her baby as bait. This forces Jack to leave his peaceful life and help out Ella and her family by using violence to gain a bit of justice.
Usually when I get low budget films to review, they are of two varieties - films that want to be THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and films that want to be a second coming of the grindhouse exploitation film due to the cult success of GRINDHOUSE from 2007. Most of the time, these films fail because they don't have the atmosphere that made those kind of films memorable. Just because you watched THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE doesn't mean you can make an exploitation film just like it that will elicit the same type of response. And while Ward Roberts' DUST UP isn't the perfect new wave grindhouse/exploitation film, it's one of the few that's the exception - it's actually a good, entertaining flick for the most part!
The script by Roberts is pretty clever and well written. The highlight of the narrative are the colorful characters that make up the twisted story. Jack, our one-eyed hero, is pretty much the stoic straight man who has a tragic past that resulted in the loss of his eye and a good friend. He's the quiet bad ass that will go against his code in order to make sure the right thing is done. He also has a cool patch, which a lot of the characters seem impressed by.
Mo is Jack's Native American friend - well I think he's Native American. Still, he and Jack exchange great banter and dialogue with each other [one of the highlights of the film], and Mo can throw a mean projectile whenever he can get hold of one.
Ella is the most normal of the characters. She's a struggling young mother who is frustrated with raising her child alone because her husband is a pathetic drug addict. She finds an instant connection with Jack, seeing how responsible and in control he is. While she does get to be a damsel-in-distress for a moment, she eventually becomes on the crew by the movie's end.
Herman is Ella's husband. He's also a massive speed addict who seems to not want any responsibility of anything or anyone. Herman pretty much believes everything is a joke, which results in a lot of conflict with the others.
My favorite character, however, was the villainous bar owner Buzz. This guy is just a whack job in every way. He's bisexual, screwing both men and women without shame. He snorts drugs off of his bar counter. He enjoys eating human flesh. And he believes the Government is after him for whatever reason. Buzz has no morals, no filter, and no conscience. Roberts created a great exploitation villain with this character.
As I mentioned, the dialogue is well written with each character sounding distinct. The story is easy to follow and paced so well, the 90 minute DUST UP breezes right by. There are a lot of touches to the film that show how inspired Roberts was. The character with the eye patch. The crazy drug dealers. The crooked sheriff. The young mother who toughens up in order to survive. Certain sexual and racial issues that the mainstream would frown upon, but fit right in a grindhouse type of movie. DUST UP does really well when it hits the intended target.
Does the narrative has issues? Sure. DUST UP does take some time to get going, but it does this to establish the characters and the situation. So I can let that slide. However, I felt Buzz's motivations for what he does to justify his crazy and evil actions felt a bit forced. Like I mention earlier, he has this issue about being anti-Government that seems to motivate what he does to the people he encounters and surrounds himself with. The reasons aren't what is wrong. It's just how it's brought up and presented. It's as if Roberts realized he didn't have a reason for his villain, so he came up with this idea about Buzz hating authority. It never really goes anywhere and never feels natural within the context of the story. I would have been okay if Buzz was just a crazy drug dealer who wanted to do these messed up things just to show how powerful he thought he was. The fact that our heroes accidentally do something that threaten Buzz's livelihood should be enough motivation for the character. So the whole Government deal took me out of the film a bit.
DUST UP has its share of gore and blood FX here. We get stabbings. We get gunshots. We get scalpings. We get genitals getting impaled. We get people getting raped by Buzz. There's man on woman violence as well, if anyone is into that for whatever reason. Some of it was CGI, but I believe most were done with practical effects. For a low budget feature, it looked pretty damn good. There's a lot of insane stuff going on in this film when it comes to sex and violence here, but I really enjoyed how campy it all was.
The direction by Ward Roberts is very cool. While I wish it had that film grain that grindhouse films usually have to make it look more authentic, I felt the visual presentation was pretty solid. The colors are vibrant and nice to look at. The framing, composition, and editing is top notch. The pacing is great. I like how flashbacks were more saturated. During a chase scene in the final act, more blues and purples were used that ended up being visually interesting. I really liked the direction here.
The acting wasn't the greatest, but it still worked for me. I think Amber Benson and Jeremiah Birkett were the best actors here. Benson, best known as Tara on TV's Buffy The Vampire Slayer, is really sweet here and is easily likeable. Birkett is fantastic as Buzz. He seems to be having the time of his life being the ultimate villain. And while Birkett plays a creep, there's something to like about his performance and his character as well. The other main actors were more hit than miss and I enjoyed their acting for the most part. Pretty cool cast and who probably had a ton of fun making DUST UP.
THE FINAL HOWL