Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson: Brace Yourself, Because This Exists

The opening montage of this film reminds us what a crummy decade the 1990’s were. We see the LA Riots, Bill Clinton, and O.J. Simpson. It was especially disappointing because it followed the greatness of the 1980’s: the resurgence of the American economy, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the rise of acoustic post-bop jazz. Arguably, the brutal Simpson murders and the distasteful media storm that followed were the worst of what came to pass in that decade (but the blue dress certainly gave the bloody glove a run for its money). Daniel Farrands revisits the whole tragic business in the stunningly ill-conceived The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, which is now playing in LA.

Even though she has been divorced for two years, Nicole Brown is still constantly harassed by her ex-husband, O.J. Simpson. Ominously, she fears his hostility is escalating. That much is true—and probably only that much. Although living in fashionable Brentwood, she still struggles to raise her two young children as a single mom, getting little support from her family and nothing but stress from O.J. Her hot mess friend Faye Resnick is not much help either. Only her bestie Kris Jenner (formerly Kardashian) is reliably there for her.

Since Resnick flaked out halfway through redecorating Brown’s home, she hires the handyman working next door to finish painting the interiors. Unfortunately, he turns out to be Glen Rogers, a serial killer, whose victims were attributed to him as both the “Casanova Killer” and the “Cross Country Killer.” Brown happens to be exactly his type. In fact, he is the “real killer” (perhaps acting with O.J.’s passive encouragement).

Basically, this film is based on O.J. Simpson’s self-serving fantasies. Truly, the bad karma just oozes off the screen. Beyond the obvious problematic issue of denying reality, it also seems downright slanderous, especially with regards to its portrayal of Resnick as a drug-addled fair-weather friend, who bitterly resented Brown for not reciprocating her lesbian lust. However, the absolute nadir of the film is its graphic depiction of the murder of Ronald Goldman. We can only hope and pray the Goldman family never see this train-wreck.

As cinema, the structure of the film is inherently anti-climactic, because it steadily builds towards the titular murder (there were actually two of them) like a tawdry pop-culture passion play. Mena Suvari’s one-deer-in-the-headlights-look-for-every-scene approach to playing Brown does not exactly help either. She is not an effective mouthpiece to allow “the victim to tell her story,” but the film doesn’t try to do that anyway. Remember, Simpson was found civilly responsible for her murder. Probably the only people dumb enough to buy screenwriter Michael Arter’s alternate theory are the twelve idiots who served on Simpson’s 1994 jury. Make that theories. In one absolutely bizarre dream sequence, Brown is thrown about her home by an invisible entity, so maybe the “real killer” was Pazuzu.

Weirdly, Gene Freeman hardly has any screen time, because Simpson just occasionally seen hovering in the shadows, in the far corners of the frame, like Satan in Rosemary’s Baby. Nick Stahl’s awkwardly shticky Rogers is so sleazy and gross-looking, it is impossible to believe Brown would even talk to him in her neighbor’s driveway, let alone sleep with him. Agnes Bruckner’s ultra-conspicuous brunette wig is another source of head-scratching disbelief, yet she probably supplies the most engaging performance as Jenner.

To be fair, we must admit Farrands is surprisingly effective channeling Brian de Palma channeling Hitchcock in several of the film’s stalking scenes. Exploitation is definitely his thing, having previously helmed the supposedly “inspired by real events” horror movies, The Amityville Murders and The Haunting of Sharon Tate. We could sort of give him a pass on the latter because Amityville has sort of become a free-for-all horror cliché. Haunting was reportedly problematic too, but Murder of is in a league of its own. It might be tempting to watch it out of morbid curiosity. Trust me, resist that impulse. Not recommended, The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson is currently playing near Brentwood, at the Arena CineLounge.