Experiencing the micro-budget “Anchorage,” a drug-fueled eulogy to the crumbling American dream, is like dealing with a rowdy pup who’s constantly on your heels for attention – irritating as it is may be, it ultimately proves difficult to dismiss.
With classic 1970s road movies setting the thematic course, the film follows a pair of brothers as they travel through the seemingly endless California high desert in a run-down Crown Vic with a trunk full of opioid teddy bears and a Bible on the dash.
After starting their journey in Florida, Jacob (Scott Monahan) and John (Dakota Loesch) are en route to Alaska where, based on supply and demand, they can offload their pill load for nearly a million dollars.
Based on first impressions, looking at Jacob, with the blue hair on his head and the gold grill in his mouth, and the significantly less stable, opioid-addicted John, whose travel attire consists of sagging red long underwear, one suspects they’ll become theirs Do not pursue a get-rich-quick plan, especially if they continue to dig through their supplies.
Still, they move forward, bickering and bickering constantly, stopping off in a row of run-down buildings in every deserted ghost town they enter. With one fateful exception, they rarely meet anyone else along the way.
Directed by Monahan over a terse, chronological course of five days of shooting, leaving little room for re-runs, the production relies on Loesch’s simplistic screenplay rather than a roadmap, resulting in extensively improvised dialogue that reaches its sharpest edge early in the compact ’80s repeat -minute excursion.
But it’s what’s outside of her car window that makes a stronger impression.
Captured by cinematographer Erin Naifeh, the surreal succession of forgotten, crumbling structures en route from a former air force base to an abandoned housing development and a long-disused mining site casts a surreal, Twilight Zone-esque magic.
The sparse visual landscape (with Death Valley, Hinkley, Lone Pine, and Victorville among the manufacturing locations) draws on the dwindling natural light that symbolically darkens their way forward, and serves as a metaphor for contemporary diseases, particularly the opioid epidemic, ravaging society tearing families apart.
The soundtrack is effectively accented by a score by Savannah Wheeler peppered with suitably dissonant, piercing strings, and could have done without additional embellishments like a folksy rendition of “America the Beautiful” to get his point across.
Understandably, Monahan’s Jacob feels inseparably trapped in an endless void with no way out, and scowls from the driver’s seat at the vast, empty purgatory that lies ahead, like a pine air freshener set on the Rearview mirror hangs swinging back and forth like an enticing pendulum. Even if Anchorage, like its doomed passengers, might not reach its intended destination, the existential path of not getting there is nonetheless paved with inescapably compelling intentions.
Duration: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Play: Begins June 16th at the Laemmle NoHo, North Hollywood