This is the rare Netflix hate watch that winds up giving the viewer butterflies rather than the makings of an ulcer.
There are few experiences stranger than firing up a garbage looking B-movie on a streaming service expecting cinematic schadenfreude only to discover an ambitious gem that doesn’t quite stick the landing. It’s like watching karaoke at a local sports bar and some drunk guy is singing “How Much I Feel” by Ambrosia. He’s not hitting all the notes right, at all, but something about him even trying touches the right spots.
Residue, the second feature film from writer/director Rusty Nixon is a little like that. By all appearances, it should be a steaming piece of shit best watched with friends and copious amounts of alcohol. But this movie, while far from a home run, is an endearing low budget thriller with a lot going for it. The film stars James Clayton as Luke Harding, a down and out private eye who accidentally gets mixed up in the occult. Harding is hired by Mr. Fairweather, a scummy pro wrestling promoter turned crime boss (played with scenery chewing aplomb by Matt Frewer), to track ten targets and catch each of them doing something dirty. Harding obliges, but the tenth mark takes the longest, as the guy he’s following seems clean as a whistle.
This innocent man has passed Mr. Fairweather’s “test,” so Harding is offered 10 grand to deliver a package to him. A rival crew working for a man called Lamont (William B. Davis, aka The Cigarette-Smoking Man from “The X-Files”) gets involved in the delivery, shots are fired, men die and Harding is left with the package, which turns out to be a very old book. He makes the mistake of opening the book and touching the icky black residue stuck to its pages and everything changes. Time and space warp around Harding as he begins to lose track of time, see briefly into the future and have other foreboding visions creeping into his day.
From there, this simple neo-noir devolves into a Lovecraftian horror mishmash, but one with a beating heart at its messy core. See, right before all the shit hits the fan, Harding invites his estranged 18-year-old daughter to stay with him at his shitty apartment. His relationship with Angelina (Taylor Hickson) is truncated, but still somehow quite affecting. The film shows the full extent of how crummy a guy Harding is as well as how fucked his relationship with his own father was well before she’s introduced, so the screen time they spend together is loaded with baggage from the start. This is a guy whose dad left him a series of disparaging videos in his will, so on his birthday Harding still gets cruel messages from his deceased pops. So, when Harding discovers that his daughter is a lesbian and meets her new girlfriend and doesn’t resort to a bunch of icky Archie Bunker bullshit, it’s weirdly sweet.
The film experiments with genre in ways that other films in recent memory have done far better. The reality fragmentation stuff is better in The Endless and all the Lovecraft influence is employed with more success in John Dies At The End, but Residue maximizes a small budget and a cast littered with interesting character actors but few standout performances quite well. Harding’s ongoing battle with this living tome builds to a legitimately cathartic crescendo with his daughter and the haunting weirdness the book brings to those around him creates real tension and unease. It’s never outright scary, the tone and atmosphere are impressive for such a goofy looking film.
It’s not the most original or the most effective, but there’s just something about Residue that’s hard to shake. It feels like shards of a broken tableau, intermittent slivers of greatness stuck to odds and ends of mediocrity with crazy glue and hope. At 82 minutes, it’s h ard not to wonder if a roomier running time might have made for more clarity within the challenging core storyline. But with a length that short, it’s easier to justify its misgivings and appreciate the little touches it gets right. This is the rare Netflix hate watch that winds up giving the viewer butterflies rather than the makings of an ulcer.