Whatever else you think of Joe Swanberg’s movies—and there have been four in 2011 alone—they can’t be accused of kowtowing to formula: The restlessness, acute self-awareness, and confessionalism that characterize his work are almost belligerently genre-proof. Which might be why Silver Bullets is the most affecting “horror” movie I’ve seen in a while, as Swanberg ignores tired supernatural scare-flick trappings and locates terror in the shadowy, passive-aggressive process of making, and watching, movies. Claire (Kate Lyn Sheil), a young actress cast in a werewolf movie directed by cocky indie-horror prodigy Ben (Ti West, auteur of The House of the Devil, playing to type), negotiates the fragile egos of her insecure filmmaker boyfriend, Ethan (Swanberg), her new employer, and an older actress also cast in the film (Jane Adams). Violence ensues, but despite a brief, bloody interlude and some hair-raising gunplay it’s more reminiscent of the haunted Hour of the Wolf than the graphic Wolfman. Still, the menacing tone of Silver Bullets evokes the genre but with something real at stake—buffeted between her two bullying male pursuers, our fragile heroine is bound to crack. This vein of cinema-as-aggression is practically Swanberg’s calling card—see Art History—but there’s a vulnerability and restraint here that are new, and they give heft to the meta-horror narrative while moving Swanberg’s oeuvre squarely away from mumblecore faddishness. The closing shot, in which Sheil dolls herself up, induces fake tears, and points her enigmatic gaze in our direction, may be the most sympathetic and dead smart passage in one of his films yet, if not most movies this year.
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