Banjo (Review)

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BANJO

THE SETUP

I’d just like to begin by saying thank you to Writer/Director, Liam Regan for allowing me access to an online screener of his debut feature-length film, “Banjo” aka “My Bloody Banjo”. Banjo is a Horror/Comedy about insecure and spineless office worker, Peltzer Arbuckle (played by James Hamer-Morton), whose manipulated by his imaginary friend, Ronnie (Damian Morter) into killing the co-workers that relentlessly torment him, his current girlfriend, Deetz included (the stunning, Dani Thompson from “Axe To Grind”). The film also stars, Serena Chloe Gardner, “Return To Nuke Em’ High” actors, Vito Trigo and Clay von Carlowitz, as well as Laurence R. Harvey (from The Human Centipede franchise) *see review* https://adamthemoviegod.com/the-human-centipede-2-the-full-sequence-review/. I first heard about Banjo well over a year ago and thought it sounded like an interesting concept for a film. After watching it and briefly chatting with Liam, I got a better understanding of the trials and tribulations that went with the five-year process of getting it made. This is an independently funded low-budget film.

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THE GOOD

I quite like the original retro poster for Banjo, and although the above artwork isn’t the official one, I stumbled across it and it’s so superbly drawn that I had to have it complement the review. I saw the trailer for this one that long ago that I’d pretty much forgotten most of the content, but from the opening frames, I quickly realized this was a low-budget kind of affair. Much to my surprise, the technical aspects are all far better than you’d expect given the levels of experience and the type of equipment being used. The audio track is clear and consistent when alternating between locations, and the colorful lighting in certain scenes gives off an intended fantasy air about it all. Morter appears to be a jack of all trades, acting not only as Peltzer’s alter ego but also the DP on the film (director of photography) as well as the editor. I was extremely amazed to see multiple crane shots included in here, especially given the budget. In addition, his camera work is really good, comprising of gentle zooming, sharp close-ups and impressive framing to boot. I thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack for Banjo too. I have a soft spot for the three or four note section of bass and cello (I think it is) that Regan uses, that sounds right out of “American Psycho” (absolute personal favourite). There’s a lot of interesting and energetic themes employing, violin, bass and synth, reminding me somewhat of Peter Jackson’s music in his early films (Bad Taste and Braindead).

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Let’s talk about the cast. Leading from the front is James Morton, he does a nice job of conveying the psychological damage to Peltzer, after having suffered long-term at the hands of his co-workers. Then there’s Thompson, playing Deetz, the love of Peltzer’s life. It’s clear from the immediate introduction to Thompson’s character mid intercourse, that she’s curvaceous and sexy as hell. Simply put, she’s stacked. More or less on display, and looking great. Deetz is very much a self involved and openly blunt woman whom Peltzer’s constantly pinching himself over because he can’t believe he landed her. She’s clearly stunning but a nymphomaniac at her core, and truly ugly on the inside (which I’m sure Dani is not). Thompson’s performance is a little over dramatic but it fits with Deetz’s particular brand of brazen. The only other key actress in the film is Gardner, playing Melissa, an old flame of Peltzer’s who works in the same office but is now in a relationship with corporate bully, Stiles Rembrandt (Carlowitz). Serena doesn’t get a lot of material but she’s serviceable and Carlowitz plays that guy you love to hate, though on a couple of occasions his performance is a little over the top. The same can be said about Trigo, who plays the boss, Mr Sawyer. He’s the biggest bully of them all but there’s several of Trigo’s reactions that feel cartoonish (maybe due to the writing) and therefore he’s probably the most inconsistent of the leads. It was great to see Regan land a familiar name in, Laurence Harvey. Thanks to Tom Six (Writer/Director of The Human Centipede) you feel like everyone knows about Harvey, so it was different seeing him portray the victim, finding himself on the receiving end of the wrath instead of dishing it out (a much less violent wrath than THC of course).

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Damian Morter’s, Ronnie, is by far in a way the best thing about Banjo. Regan’s writing is strongest once it becomes about the imaginary friend, and in turn the dark side of Peltzer’s psyche. You don’t learn much about Ronnie’s origin but the character is enjoyable enough despite it. Morter’s character’s makeup bears a striking resemblance to the facial structure of late actor, Robert Z’Dar (from Maniac Cop). Ronnie’s face is swollen and the overly large jaw gives him a very specific and unsettling look. Damian’s portrayal of this darkly funny presence is like a much zanier, Christian Bale, or should I say Bale playing “Pat Bateman” (yet another American Psycho reference). It may be completely coincidental that I found AP qualities in Regan’s film but it’s fun all the same. Morter is constantly animated with his movement and facial expressions and it makes most of his scenes very entertaining. Banjo doesn’t shy away from making plenty of mess with the red stuff either. There’s ample amount of blood spray, most notably during an agonizing situation Peltzer finds himself in that this viewer can really relate to (at least the fear of it on some level). The same scene displays a very authentic prosthetic piece that’s bound to make you look away at least once and cringe more than that. The standout kill in Banjo is one that involves a chainsaw and a custom three-quarter body cast, impressive stuff on limited funds!

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THE BAD

On the technical front, my only complaint was that the film was a little flat color wise. The subject matter is dark in nature but other than some Giallo inspired lighting, most of the saturation is dull. The score is unorthodox and quirky in its timing and that’s one of the best parts about it, though it is slightly heavy-handed in sections that don’t really require it. Now it may have been intended, but some of Regan’s writing felt rather juvenile. There’s some clumsy dialogue during several conversations and plenty of excess profanity too. Language doesn’t normally bother me if it fits the tone, but there’s at least two or three c-bombs in here that were crass for crass sake. Some of the secondary actors like David Curtis and Dan Palmer, who play Stiles office “cronies” (for lack of a better word), fall short during their spiel to Clyde (played by Harvey) in the bathroom scenes. Banjo was shot in the UK but features three characters (Ronnie included) that are all Americans. Morter is English himself but plays Ronnie with an American accent. I know Clay is actually American and I’m not sure about Vito, it was just an odd detail I noticed. Because of the films fantastical nature, there were scenes that I thought for sure were in Peltzer’s head and turned out not to be. Example number one. Banjo opens with Peltzer and Deetz having what can only be described as the least enjoyable sex scene perhaps anyone’s ever had in film history. Deetz voicing her displeasure and frustration with the stale relationship and her mans erectile dysfunction. It quickly escalates from there to action (and not the good kind), as she proceeds to empty a full condom of semen onto Peltzer’s face (and now I’m scarred for life). So you can see how I thought that was just a dream right? Or more aptly, a nightmare.

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On the couple’s second attempt for successful sex, Deetz doesn’t give little Peltzer a chance to get shy, instead injects him with some sort of stimulant. What starts off well, ends up taking a turn for the worse when Peltzer hears something crack and the blood begins to flow, and boy does it flow….. Deetz continues to straddle him regardless, almost as if a sick part of her actually gets off on all the blood and carnage. I guarantee if the roles were reversed that would be the furthest thing from any guys mind…. It’s quite a gross and graphic scene only further exaggerated when Peltzer rushes into the bathroom to stop the bleeding. If it was real life he’d have lost so much blood that he’d either have passed out or died on the way in. What follows is probably the most graphic scene in the film, as he attempts to stop the bleeding and as far as I understood it, laughed maniacally until passing out… a strange, strange scene to say the least. I’m not sure why you’d be nervously or madly laughing if you’d lost that amount of blood, but anyways. Those couple of scenes are early in the film and they’re just a brief glimpse into the dynamics of the relationship between Peltzer and Deetz. My biggest problem with Banjo is that we are led to believe that it’s possible for someone to be this delusional about their own standing in life, not to mention how those around perceive him, particularly any so-called loved one. A one way street relationship like theirs would never really be a thing, or if it was it wouldn’t last long at all. There’s two glaring issues here. Firstly, is anyone really that horrible? (aside from criminals), I mean these characters are just downright feral. Secondly and more importantly, the one guy you can potentially root for remains such a whiny, spineless lightweight (yes another American Psycho reference) for the entire duration, making it virtually impossible to invest in him. On another note, I was hoping to see a lot more carnage than I did. Maybe some visceral reward against those repugnant co-workers, but I understand that it’s not always possible when you’ve got limited time and money.

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Liam Regan’s, Banjo is definitely an acquired taste, a very specific film that blends elements of Fantasy, Horror and Comedy. It feels like a low-budget cross between Jared Cohn’s, “Buddy Hutchins” and the Ryan Reynolds film, “The Voices”. It’s psychological, it’s dark and it’s disturbing. I love the poster art and Liam’s colorful characters names (Peltzer Arbuckle and Stiles Rembrandt are just a couple). Both the audio and camera/electrical departments are to be lauded for driving the high production value aesthetic of Banjo. The shot choices and editing are both smooth, and the old school, Peter Jackson esq score was one of my favourite aspects. I noticed a few familiar faces here and the performances are pretty even, my favorites being Morter and Thompson (helps that she looks so fine). Ronnie is clearly the most entertaining character in the film and the blood and gore when it is present, looks pretty impressive. Some of the dialogue feels forced and the over or under reactions, take you out of the film momentarily. The film’s biggest hindrance is that its characters are so unlikable and their respective stereotypes are badly overblown. Regan could have saved face somewhat with a bigger body count and more effective means for disposal of those awful characters. Money is required to be able to make those creative decisions so I see why he didn’t or couldn’t, but you know it’s bad when you can’t even back the protagonist (not at all Morton’s fault). In the end there was nowhere for me to really insert myself (pardon the pun). Regan was personally and professionally put through the ringer during this process and his passion and hard work still somehow manages to peep through the crack at times throughout the film, it unfortunately just never bursts. I can truly respect the journey he took to get here and it’s pretty inspiring stuff for anyone looking to get involved in the industry (myself included). That said, Banjo wasn’t really for me but if this particular brand of fruit cake appeals to you, Keep an eye out for it soon and check out the trailer below!

My rating for “Banjo” is 4/10

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