Sometimes, all you need for a film to work is to put a group of great actors in a room together and let them do their thing. Such is the case with Brooklyn 45, the latest feature from writer-director Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here, Mohawk). Set in the aftermath of World War II, the movie finds five long-time friends gathering at the well-established brownstone of Lt. Col. Clive Hockstatter (Larry Fessenden) following the death of his beloved wife, who took her own life after becoming convinced that their German neighbor (Kristina Klebe) was secretly spying on them.
Anne Ramsay is the no-nonsense former torturer-in-chief, Marla, and Ron E. Rains is her well-meaning husband, Bob, who’s repeatedly the butt of Mjr. Archibald Stanton’s (Jeremy Holms) and Mjr. Paul DiFranco’s (Ezra Buzzington) jokes. Marla and Bob are the most settled of the group; they have secure government jobs and are carving out a decent existence in DC now that the war is finally over. But, for the likes of Archibald, Paul and, it becomes increasingly clear, Clive, the fighting never really ended and likely never will. They’re suffering from intense PTSD, almost willingly so.
At first, Brooklyn 45’s main character appears to be Basil Exposition himself, as the quintet stands around Clive’s stunningly decorated parlor–the set dressing is spectacular, comprising a color palette in various shades of green including an acid wash that really pops under the low lighting–and essentially rehashes their relationships. Geoghegan, who tackled the script himself, hasn’t fully mastered how to make these kinds of interactions feel real. For the most part, we’re left wondering why these characters would be reminding each other about things they all experienced.
Likewise, there’s some on the nose dialogue about “choosing hate” that grasps a little too desperately for 2023 relevance. However, it’s still a welcome discussion to have regardless, especially given everything that’s going on in the world right now. One of the biggest talking points hinges on an atrocity involving the mindless slaughter of 56 children, which has some unavoidably queasy real-world implications. Geoghegan clearly has plenty to say about the rampant xenophobia that’s dominating the country and it’s telling that, almost 80-years ago, the conversation was the same.
Luckily, the cast is all playing such a blinder that they effortlessly elevate the dialogue in its weaker moments. These characters feel incredibly lived-in, their interpersonal issues often uncomfortably believable (the casual way Paul refers to Archibald as a “f****t” is utilized to show how easy it is to convince someone they just can’t take a joke when really, their antagonist is purposely being hurtful and trying to disguise it as humor). When the idea of a séance is floated, nobody wants to do it either, which is a nice twist for a horror movie since typically the characters readily jump in.
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Maybe it’s simply because they’re all older people, with more life experience, but there’s a sense that this lot have seen more than enough death and destruction for one lifetime so naturally they don’t really fancy the idea of potentially letting evil in. Although Brooklyn 45 is about confronting the ghosts of the past, often quite literally, the paranormal element isn’t the focus. This is a claustrophobic chamber piece, utterly character-driven, and confined to a single room for the most part. Thankfully, there’s so much gorgeous detail that you don’t mind being stuck there, especially with these people.
It’s tough to pick a standout among the cast of phenomenal character actors, all of whom fully sell each moment. Fessenden is incapable of being bad, but he’s heartbreakingly good in this, completely convincing, whether spouting conspiracy theory nonsense or grieving his wife. As the formidable Marla, Ramsay is wonderful and often dryly funny when it comes to commenting on her dysfunctional friend group (“We’re never comfortable,” she quips to Bob at one point). Her scenes with Klebe’s Hildegard are charged with a shared understanding of the difficulties women faced at this moment in time. Holm and Buzzington, meanwhile, make for a fascinating counterpoint to each other.
Holm impressed as the titular killer in The Ranger, and anybody who caught him in that wonderfully nasty little slasher will be shocked by the total 180 he does here as the tortured yet caddish Archibald. Considering the current attacks being waged against the queer community, Archibald’s plight is especially upsetting, and Holm plays the character’s many contradictions beautifully. Buzzington, meanwhile, is careful not to stray into full-on mustache-twirling villain territory but he’s clearly the worst of them, and the least likely to take accountability for his actions either then or now.
Even if Brooklyn 45 doesn’t necessarily work as a paranormal chiller, with little atmosphere to speak of and an almost complete lack of scares, as an actors’ showcase, it’s solid. Ruminations on the devastating implications of war, the paranoia surrounding outsiders coming into the US and the rights of these typically lesser-off people to make a better life for themselves, are all just as pressing now as they were back in 1945, maybe even more so. Brooklyn 45 is at its strongest when the movie pares everything back and leaves this cabal of former dissidents to squirm as they fight over whether they’ve any place in the world anymore in a well-appointed, impossibly stately parlor room. By the end, we really don’t want them to leave.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Ted Geoghegan
Writer(s): Ted Geoghegan
Stars: Anne Ramsay, Ron E. Rains, Jeremy Holm, Larry Fessenden, Ezra Buzzington, Kristina Klebe
Release date: June 9, 2023 (Shudder)
Run Time: 92 minutes