Morris County is a 2009 American anthology feature film directed by Matthew Garrett dealing with different individuals and groups in a small town who experience similar levels of alienation and despair.
Though more comfortably described as pitch black drama, the levels of suffering and disturbing images throughout have led to it being considered a part of the horror genre, the monstrous characters and events portrayed in the film as disturbing as those of a supernatural or fantastical kind.
Part one introduces us to Ellie (Darcy Miller), a young teenager who is causing concern for her stepmother who suspects she has started smoking and is beginning to slide off the rails. Responding in the trademark, largely silent, sulky manner that teenagers expertly perfect, we learn that the suspicions have more than a semblance of truth, with Ellie going to the local corner shop to buy a bottle of whiskey. Clearly underage, she is quickly rebuffed by the shop assistant, though his manager suggests there may be a mutually beneficial way of resolving the matter. Leaving the store a short time later, defiled, she sits in a local wood, where she begins to partake of the hard-earned liquor.
Ellie’s miserable solitude is interrupted by three school acquaintances, also looking for extra-curricular misdemeanours, all of them surprised to see Ellie indulging in similar nefarious behaviour. After a marijuana joint is passed around, yet more sexual activity takes place, this time resulting in Ellie fleeing the scene to the safety of her local community. Once there, we find the true cause of Ellie’s quest to escape the cold glare of real life, ending with a shockingly graphic image.
Part two sees a Jewish couple struggling with their relationship, the wife, Rachel (Maren Perry), not waiting for a divorce to find another partner. Her husband, Noah (Albie Selznick, a tireless television actor, including episodes of The Twilight Zone and Freddy’s Nightmares in the 1990’s) initially carries on as usual, for both the sake of their young son and the fear of the scorn of his community. Noah, unable to confront his wife’s infidelity or his own homosexual yearnings, seeks a way out, resulting in an ill-advised pick-up at the local adult film store, a last resort to resolve his internal confusion after an aborted suicide attempt. As his world caves in around him, even the innocent young boy he aims to protect is mangling mice in a jar, leaving him to opt for a more drastic solution.
The concluding part concerns elderly couple, Iris (Alice Cannon) and Elmer (Erik Frandsen, Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet), she, kindly and happy with their quaint routines, he curmudgeonly and apathetic, though ultimately harmless. With technology getting the better of her, Iris has been retired against her will, her employers, grateful for her contribution, though eager to usher in a younger replacement. Iris finds it impossible to let go and returns days later, to the increasingly frayed patience of her now ex-boss. Worse still, Elmer expires overnight in front of the television, leaving Iris in a lonely world. We soon discover how a person with everything taken away from them can learn to cope… or not.
As an oft-overlooked independent film, Morris County can boast some stellar acting performances, uniformly touching, engaging and believable, despite the majority of the cast having little or no previous experience in front of the camera. Perhaps more surprising is that writer and director, Garrett, had even less experience (the first segment had previously existed in another form, as a stand-alone short): indeed in the years since, only one more short (Beating Hearts) and a forthcoming acting role, in Sociopathia, have appeared, a great shame.
It is not, by any standards, a cheery watch; the three stories show people at their lowest ebb and the descent into the cruel ways the mind reacts as a result; accordingly, every unflinching detail is shown, driving home that these are far from outlandish, convoluted scenarios – this is the everyday at its most brutal.
Two of the special effects and make-up crew have at least seen some success since the film’s release; Brian Spears’ make-up has been seen in films such as The Innkeepers and The Sacrament, whilst Jeremy Selenfriend founded SFX company, Monster in the Closet, working on both modest productions (John McNaughton’s The Harvest) and the more lavish (The Amazing Spiderman 2, the Daredevil television series).
Looking behind the masks of seemingly average people in humdrum environs, the three stories all have surprise twists, though none feel forced or ridiculous and credit is given to the audience to draw their own conclusions.
Morris County, which is unlikely to appear in “films you really should have seen” lists in future years, is fortunately championed by the writer Kier-La Janisse in her book, House of Psychotic Women.
Daz Lawrence, MOV!ES and MAN!A
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