For decades, tortured artists have embodied seminal anti-heroes in film, from Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood in 1959 to Herschell Gordon Lewis’s 1965 freakout Color Me Blood Red and Abel Ferrara’s 1979 punk/trash masterpiece The Driller Killer. Now directors Tilke Hill and David R. Williams offer their take on this classic premise with the surreal and unsettling Rust Belt Driller.
Screenwriter Aaron Krygier plays Renn Maxwell, a struggling artist whose best years are behind him. His life partner, Carol (Jillian Geurts from the Hellhouse LLC franchise), loathes him, while his agent Abel (Steve Jakiel) can barely get him a gig for a wedding painting. Unbeknownst to them, Renn has slowly been unraveling internally as dark visions have consumed his mind to the point where he can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. He stays up late at night watching the outside world disintegrate in civil unrest. However, when a recurring infomercial for the Drillinator 9000 fully seeps into Renn’s psyche, it sends him down a path from which he can never return.
With Rust Belt Driller, Hill and Williams pay homage to the films that influenced this story and give us their unique take on the tale. They drop us right into the delusions of Renn and make no excuses or explanations for the absurd elements that control his thoughts. He’s obviously very disturbed and views the world through an evil psychedelic haze. The directors keep the tone dark, so when it could turn to the farcical direction of Lewis or Corman, they stay the course rather than play the grisly moments for laughs. There’s also some subliminal editing that adds to the surreal nature of this celluloid mental breakdown.
“…a recurring infomercial for the Drillinator 9000 fully seeps into Renn’s psyche…”
Of course, none of this would be possible without the actors or the special effects team. For their part, the actors play their roles completely straight and make the film the intense nightmare it’s meant to be. Krygier truly comes off as unhinged, Geurts as bitter and angry, and Jakiel as the sleazy agent who cares as much for his client as he exploits him.
Meanwhile, the special effects team does an awesome job of making memorable visions of gore that stick with you long after Rust Belt Driller has finished. They make Maxwell’s nightmares come to life with passion, their work as nightmarishly disturbing as the character’s art. It’s not gore for its own sake, but for art – and there is a big difference. The Drillinator 9000 is especially powerful as a cyberpunk tool of mayhem and destruction, a perfect metaphor for our tech-obsessed world driven deeper into cyberspace by a pandemic we never expected.
Desperation and solitude can lead us down extremely dark paths. We all felt it last year: the isolation, the uncertainty, the ever-present doom. Tilke Hill and David R. Williams have channeled it into their art and made a film we’ll all understand internally, if not immediately on the surface. The Rust Belt Driller is us, but will we admit it?
Rust Belt Driller will screen at the 2021 Dances With Films.
"…memorable visions of gore that stick with you..."