DIRECTED BY: Tenney Fairchild

FEATURING: Trevor Morgan, Elizabeth Rice, Analeigh Tipton, Adhir Kalyan

PLOT: A pathologically nice guy rescues a cute but sadistic girl from a suicide attempt, and she takes over his life and poisons his relationships.

Still from Buttwhistle (2014)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Buttwhistle is legitimately weird, from its random opening Scanners tribute to the detached coda, an obscene discussion of the law of non-contradiction. That is not to say that it’s an entirely successful enterprise, however; and although it’s not nearly as bad as you may have heard, it’s not a serious contender for one of the best weird movies of all time, either.

COMMENTS: Despite its “stupid” title, Buttwhistle is put together with care, and maybe even love, but it’s easy to see why this strange mix of slacker drama and deadpan absurdity infuriated most viewers. The first ten minutes are guaranteed to confuse, with too many supporting characters–girlfriends, bikers, cheeky British chums—introduced without much context, and some real non-sequiturs thrown in to boot. Stick with it and the plot will mostly sort itself out, however, though I wouldn’t expect every line of inquiry to be followed through to completion if I were you.

When, out of nowhere, easygoing Ogden catches Beth falling from the sky—presumably in a suicide attempt—the basic outline of this frog-and-the-scorpion fable becomes clear. Ogden is a terminal nice guy; it’s impossible to insult him because he turns every jab into a joke on himself (“You have an answer for everything!” “I’m not going to answer that.”) He’s the kind of guy who regularly checks in on his elderly neighbor, the friend you turn to when you’re out of doors and needed a floor to sleep on, no questions asked. Beth follows him home and stays with him with no discussion about the arrangement. She is Ogden’s mirror image, completely nasty and selfish. She amuses herself by spiting in Ogden’s food when he’s not looking. She takes a keen interest in both seducing her savior, and in surreptitiously turning everyone in his life against him.

Tonally, Buttwhistle is a strange egg. A lot of it has the feel of a hipsterish indie drama, but with inconsistent applications of absurdist humor. The influences are good: (Ogden talks about changing his name into the sound of an air horn, middle name “for which it stands”) and (when someone illogically calls Ogden’s phone and asks to speak to half of a pair of detectives currently interviewing him about missing dogs, the other partner grills the lad about the unsolicited call), but without the silliness of the one or the darkness of the other. A vision of an ex-girlfriend and a talking bar of soap give Ogden advice, he fights girls while dressed in drag, helps fix a biker’s plastic cybernetic hand, and so on. The performances are pleasant, and a number of small clever jokes land, but overall Buttwhistle fails to find sure footing. The message is that Ogden is too nice, too altruistic for his own good—but he’s so likable we don’t want him to change, which makes for an oddly non-cathartic tragedy. Buttwhistle‘s fractured aesthetic lacks sharp edges, but remains hard to grasp.


“…surreal and senseless, with hopelessly inept execution.”–Geoff Berkshire, Variety (contemporaneous)

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