Film Review: RONDO (2018)

Film Review: RONDO (2018)

Aug 6, 2018

RONDO (2018)
Director: Drew Barnhardt
Writer: Drew Barnhardt
Stars: Brenna Otts, Paul Sorge, Gena Shaw, Reggie De Morton, Michael Vasicek, Ketrick “Jazz” Copeland, Kevin Sean Ryan, Grant Benjamin Leibowitz, Steve Van Beckum

Imagine, if you will, a budding filmmaker who’s been influenced by Hitchcock, by way of Brian De Palma. But instead of stopping there, he also drank in the best traits of The Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, and, oh, yes, for a different twist, Tom Savini and Rick Baker.  You’re either going to get something that will be slavishly imitative, filled with tropes and a grand mess, if an entertaining one to watch.

Or…

You get something like writer/director DREW BARNHARDT’S amazingly blackly funny and extremely violent sophomore offering, RONDO.

I have officially stopped hoping that De Palma will make that one last film that will put a satisfying ‘period’ on the end of his storied career. RONDO just beat him to the punch.  I can only tell you so much about it, because the less said, the more gripping and satisfying it is to behold. So, just a few details…

Paul (LUKE SORGE) is a war vet, living in Denver, Colorado, struggling with all the usual challenges – PTSD, nightmares, heavy drinking to deal with both, the works. Fallen on hard times, as most vets tend to do when dealing with the shoddy-at-best assistance from the government via the VA, he’s staying with his younger sister, Jill (the absolutely stunning BRENNA OTTS, who has appeared on RAY DONOVAN and HBO’s version of WESTWORLD).

In order to help him, Jill recommends that he see a therapist, Cassie Wright (GENA SHAW), who is very unusual…not in the sense that she’s extremely pregnant, (which she is), but that she makes a suggestion to Paul that is extremely unorthodox. Not only does she advise that he not stop drinking cold turkey – a piece of advice that as it turns out now is very knowledgeable and wise – but that he also get laid. As in seriously laid.

She even goes as far as to suggest a fetish group that she knows about (maybe a bit too well?), but breaks down the basic rules and such for attendance.  She readily provides him with the address of where this group is going to meet next, and the password to get in: ‘RONDO.’

Figuring that he has nothing left to lose, Paul decides to go for it, and shows up at the appointed time and place, giving the proper password, and gaining entrance.

And here, dear reader, is where we bid ‘adieu’ to the details.

I love a good modern-day noir thriller that never clues you in on where the hell it’s going next, and RONDO comes pretty close to besting the last one I saw, BLUE RUIN.  There were times I could just imagine Barnhardt sitting at his PC, chuckling with maniacal glee at some of the jaw-dropping scenes he came up with for the second and final acts – scenes that I can’t even begin to tell you about, because to say that it would ruin the surprise would be a fucking understatement.  I’ll just go into what I can rave about, starting with the performances.

Brenna Otts’ Jill is the character who experiences the most extreme arc of changes in RONDO. She starts off as sweet, if stern, well-meaning and devoted to taking care of her ruined brother with a lot of tough love. The places she winds up going to before the end are breathtaking, and Otts manages the transition beautifully.

Sorge’s Paul is a piteous wreck, if not altogether by his own design, and yet you still want to root for him as the ‘hero’ of the story.

Shaw’s therapist will have you laughing out loud with her calm, measured composure, handling her business with her recommendations to Paul, as if she were doing nothing more than writing him a prescription he could take right down to the Walgreens pharmacy. It’s a wonderful turn, and something that wouldn’t be at all out of place in a film by the Coens, De Palma or Tarantino.  It’s also worth mentioning here that Barnhardt’s ear for dialogue is where the Coens and Anderson influences are the most apparent. Real people don’t usually talk like anyone in any of these filmmakers’ works, but you wished like hell they did. It’s gratifying to see another good writer joining their fraternity.

The rest of the cast, including MICHAEL VASICEK, REGGIE DE MORTON, KETRICK “JAZZ” COPELAND, KEVIN SEAN RYAN, GRANT BENJAMIN LEIBOWITZ and STEVE VAN BECKUM as the film’s pragmatic-bordering-on-taciturn narrator (another Anderson flourish), ace their roles in remarkable fashion.

But the four areas I really have to give kudos to, other than Barnhardt, of course, are the soundtrack by RYAN FRANKS and SCOTT NICKOLEY (‘dubstep noir’ may actually become a genre after this!); JOHN BOURBONAIS’ dynamic photography, which is absolutely crucial to the third and final act; editor LIONEL FOOTSTANDER for helping Barnhardt make the ‘De Palma-esque” moments more his own than Brian’s, and last but most certainly not least, JOSEPH CORNELL, JOSH FOSTER and RICHARD L. HILL, (a.k.a. Synapse Films, Inc.), MIDIAN CROSBY (Monster Makeup FX) and JASON CAIN & TONY WASH (Scotchworthy Productions) for knocking it out of the park on special effects. I can’t say Word One about what makes their work so exceptional here, but gore fans – you are going to be very, VERY happy!

I do have one long-standing rule about the films I review: you gotta get high marks if you give me something that I know I want to watch twice.  And I may watch RONDO again the moment this is published, if not before.  Drew Barnhardt and company, you have moved me to the four-and-a-half out of five stars position here, I’m happy to say!

I hope that RONDO gets a reasonable theatrical release ‘tout-suite’, but if it goes DTV, run, don’t walk to the nearest Redbox, or just go right to wherever streaming platform this is destined to show up. Whatever the price, I guarantee you – you won’t be sorry for giving up this ninety minutes to RONDO.

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