Thursday, March 24, 2016

They’re Watching: Moldova’s Rustic Charm

The best thing about Moldova is its not Belarus. It is the only former Soviet Republic that remains dominated by the Communists. Naturally, the Party understands Moldovans are not interested in passing fads like human rights or economic development. Nobody wants to suggest the country is stuck in the past, but their last recorded witch burning was in the early 1900s—not so very long ago in Moldovan time. They might be gearing up for another thanks to a blundering reality television crew in Micah Wright & Jay Lender’s They’re Watching (trailer here), which opens this Friday in select theaters.

In a previous episode of Home Hunters Global, expatriate American artist Becky Westlake and her reluctant Euro football star Goran Pitsnik bought the mother of all fixer-uppers in the picturesque Moldovan countryside. That was the “before” segment. Now the crew is back to do the “after” follow-up. Brand new production assistant Sarah Ellroy has come with cameraman Greg Abernathy and Alex Torini, the acerbic stoner sound guy to do the advance work before Kate Banks, their hostess-on-wheels arrives. Unfortunately, they quickly antagonize the locals through a series of misunderstandings, as when they are caught accidentally filming a funeral.

They try to patch things up with vodka, but when Ellroy cracks a witch joke it goes over like an editorial mildly critical of the government. Nobody is amused. By the time Banks and crew reach start shooting in Westlake’s spectacularly refurbished farm house, there is a group of pitchfork-wielding villagers ominously milling about outside.

They’re Watching is not so aptly titled, but it is still one of the funniest horror comedies in years. Clearly, Wright & Lender have spent plenty of time in production conferences and editorial meetings. Anyone who has worked in media of any kind will feel they know these characters already. Their dialogue is rude, caustic, and uproarious.

Obviously, it helps that Kris Lemche’s Torini is a riffing machine. However, Mia Faith also holds up her sarcastic end as Ellroy, the boss’s bombshell daughter. As Vladimir Filat, the realtor who keeps tagging along, Dimitri Diatchenko (a classical guitarist) creates a character that is one part Yakov Smirnoff and one part Sickboy from Trainspotting. Similarly eschewing subtly, Carrie Genzel is spectacularly shrewish as Banks, whereas Brigid Brannagh really gets to chew on some serious scenery down the stretch as Westlake.

So They’re Watching probably will not get the Criterion treatment anytime soon, but its relentlessly sardonic black humor and frenetic energy level are quite impressive. It is shamelessly entertaining, like all horror comedies ought to be. Recommended for genre fans without any embarrassment or self-consciousness, They’re Watching opens tomorrow (3/25) in New York, at the Cinema Village.