Atrabilious is Willliam Atticus Parker’s third film, behind one short and another feature-length title. The impressive thing is that the writer-director is only 19. So, does this mystery-comedy-thriller show the signs of an auteur finding their voice? Or is it a vanity project by a kid who thinks he already knows everything?
Steven (Leon Addison Brown) has his world shattered upon learning that his son and his son’s boyfriend have died. In seeking answers, Steven descends into a wild down rabbit full of twists and turns as he attempts to uncover what happened. His journey leads him to the titular bar, Atrabilious, where the bartenders serve specialty cocktails that help the grieving. This puts the protagonist in the crosshairs of the mad Eduard (Mark Boone Junior), who teases that Steven’s son is still alive. Is that a lie to achieve his own means, or is there truth in what Eduard is saying?
Atrabilious is a strange beast but in the best possible way. For starters, the cast is stacked with some really great cameos. Whoopi Goldberg, Alec Baldwin, Jeffrey Wright, and Lewis Black all show up in brief but highly memorable roles. In addition, character actors such as Dan Finnerty and David Pittu get to flex their chops in excellent ways as well. And let’s not forget to mention Evan Jonigkeit’s brilliant turn as ever-important Dr. Clearwater.
“…in the crosshairs of the mad Eduard, who teases that Steven’s son is still alive.”
But the movie hinges on Brown and Boone Junior’s performances. Luckily, they are up to the task. Brown brings a vulnerability to Steven, allowing audiences to sympathize with him from the very beginning. Boone Junior is menacing, looming large over the whole story, even when he’s not on screen.
Atrabilious is wonderfully shot by Parker, who served as the director of photography. The neo-noir atmosphere is readily apparent thanks to vibrant, colorful lighting. Shot in New York on a small budget, every cent is up on the screen. While there’s a lack of action, the editing (also by Parker) keeps the tension high, as the labyrinthine screenplay parcels out answers to its mystery bit by exhilarating bit.
The filmmaker balances the tone very well, especially for such an early entry in his filmography. The comedy lands almost in every instance, especially when Black is around. The drama of a father searching for the truth behind his son’s supposed death is deeply felt, in part thanks to Brown’s emotional acting (as already mentioned). The mystery of exactly what is going on and why grips all watching and does not let go until the credits begin to roll.
Atrabilious is not for everyone, chiefly because this underground New York setting is a Wonderland of insanity. Baldwin’s cameo is so bizarre but also so amusing that it works. However, it could easily throw someone out of the story with his non-sequiturs. But if one doesn’t mind some odd moments, then Parker’s motion picture will scratch that neo-noir itch in the best possible way.
For more information about Atrabilious, visit the River Styx Productions official site.
"…balances the tone very well..."