Writer/director Todd Solondz’s filmography gets more and more fascinating with each subsequent picture. Since 1995, he has produced a half dozen of the most consistently compelling pieces of cinema to emerge from any American independent filmmaker in the past quarter of a century, each release more artistically daring than the last. Among his credits are Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995), the understandably polarizing dark comedy Happiness (1998), and the startling artistic achievement that is 2004’s Palindromes (which Solondz had to finance largely out-of-pocket). Solondz’s latest picture, Dark Horse (2011), may have been presented in its trailer as your typical, quirky, indie comedy about a layabout man-child searching for his way in life, but I assure you it is anything but. Although it certainly features one such layabout man-child in the film’s protagonist Abe (Jordan Gelber), Abe’s courtship of the over-medicated literary failure Miranda (Selma Blair) finds the character, and the audience along with him, confronting with his inner demons and insecurities face-to-face.
What do I mean by that? Well, in Dark Horse, Solondz crafts a film that will no doubt prove every bit as challenging for some viewers as his previous features have, but he does so without the utilization of such issues as pedophilia or teenage abortion. Instead, he offers here a structural challenge. Throughout the bulk of the film, as Abe goes about his days, the film will venture for a time in to his subconscious wherein he engages in hypothetical conversations with those closest to him. These periods spent in his subconscious are brief at first, but, at the climax for the film, subsume the remainder of the running time almost entirely. In this, Solondz stunts the flow of the broader narrative in favor of the more specific internal journey Abe takes toward self-acceptance. Thus, Solondz paints a more strikingly clear portrait of Abe than he had of any protagonist of his films, with the exception perhaps of Palindromes’ Aviva. This makes the journey through Dark Horse’s 80-odd minutes one of the most rewarding the filmmaker has crafted to date.
The film features an absolutely stellar cast, with the aforementioned stars accompanied by the likes of Christopher Walken, Mia Farrow, Donna Murphy, and Justin Bartha. And the production design for the picture is unbelievably meticulous. However, as a geek, the production design was admittedly so compelling that I often found myself focusing on the background elements rather than the foreground action, since the background is populated by all manner of cult collectibles and paraphernalia, including some vintage Doctor Who posters.
Dark Horse is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Virgil Films, and I highly recommend the Blu-ray for its stunning presentation of the film’s already extraordinarily sleek visuals. Unfortunately (but not unsurprisingly really given that it is a Solondz film), Dark Horse is presented in the Virgil release sans special features accompaniment. While the film certainly stands on its own, as any film worth buying should, who doesn’t welcome a wide array of complimentary special features, I ask you? Even still, this comes as a most highly recommended release from yours truly.