Banjo is definitely a film that lays its cards on the table from the word ‘go’. The first two minutes alone contain enough blood, swearing and male ejaculate for most films, but this isn’t most films.
Peltzer is a put-upon young chap who suffers emotional abuse at the hands of his domineering girlfriend Deetz, and humiliation at work in his thankless office job. After a particularly gruesome accident involving, you guessed it, a ‘snapped banjo string’, he manages to accidentally summon his imaginary friend Ronnie who has no trouble enacting the vengeful carnage that Peltzer is too meek to act out on his own.
Director Liam Regan made Banjo following on from the success of his short film Confessions Of Peltzer, which in turn was loosely inspired by Regan‘s own experiences. It was a fun, if squirm-inducing tale that definitely warranted further investigation, and Banjo fulfills the promise shown.
The jaunty, unusual score harks back to lost 80′s gems and gives the film a vintage feel which smacks of borrowed nostalgia, but in the best possible way. Even if you can’t quite put your finger on what it reminds you of, there’s something about it that’ll trigger a gratifying familiarity.
With lines like “Now make like a tampon and get out of my bloody hole”, there are no qualms about what kind of an audience Banjo is trying to attract. It’s littered with genuinely amusing, vulgar one-liners but also takes its comedy cues and beats from surprisingly traditional formats, which not only works but adds to the offbeat experience. The script can never really be accused of being perfunctory as it aims to entertain in every scene and, for the most part, achieves just that.
Banjo also proudly declares its influences with references to things like Henenlotter Hospital and, most obviously the character Deetz, along with appearances from The Human Centipede 2 and 3′s Laurence Harvey and a cameo from the face of Troma himself (no, not Toxie).
Antagonist Ronnie is a monstrous creation but gives Banjo a much-needed cartoon-y edge that prevents it from ever stepping into uncomfortably serious territory. Without giving too much away, Ronnie’s prosthetic appearance might seem a curious choice but one that works in the context and highlights the disconnect with reality.
The most unexpected aspect of Banjo is that it essentially works as male rape-revenge movie, which, in the name of equality, I’ve been bemoaning the lack of for some time. The scene in question, and the one directly after it, will make you cross your legs in discomfort regardless of your gender, and silently beg for Peltzer to get his revenge. It won’t necessarily make you think deeply about actions and their consequences but it’s an effective conceit nonetheless.
I think the best part of Banjo is that it looks phenomenal. On what must have been a comparatively miniscule budget, Regan has made a film that is lit absolutely beautifully and that almost always belies its modest beginnings.
While it’s not a perfect film, Banjo is a pleasantly surprising indie gem, which might not be the best phrasing given that little about it is actually pleasant. It’s a gruesome ride through the psyche of a troubled man and is filled with unabashedly abhorrant characters. But it’s also genuinely funny in places and is so unashamed in its influences and, unlike a lot of other modern horror movies, it wasn’t made just to exist, but to tell a story that it’s writer and director wanted to tell and so it’s sheer lack of cynicism makes it worth a watch. If you’re a fan of low budget, Troma-esque, obscene fun then give it your time.
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