WELCOME TO LEITH Review | Sundance 2015

     January 28, 2015

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I almost pity white supremacists.

Almost.

It must be incredibly difficult and exhausting going through life hating everything.  With that in mind, perhaps it’s understandable that vile, infamous white supremacist Craig Cobb wanted to build a haven for his band of morons.  Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s documentary Welcome to Leith is hilarious and disturbing in equal measure as we witness a group of well-armed, bigoted buffoons try to take over a small town.  While the movie occasionally raises the question of first amendment rights, the directors are more captivated by what Cobb and his ilk will do next, and how the regular people of Leith will react.  Although Welcome to Leith sucks us in to its surreal situation, it comes to a disappointing finish.

The town of Leith, North Dakota has 24 citizens (I had to lean over and double-check with Adam to make sure Mayor Ryan Schock said “24”).  The town is secluded, and its citizens value their privacy.  Their peaceful lives are shattered when Cobb strolls into town with a plan to buy up all the available property for his fellow white supremacists.  For a town where the mayor hadn’t even heard the term “white supremacist” before Cobb came along, he and his fellow citizens must now face a crazy person who plans to overrun their community with the scum of the Earth.

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Welcome to Leith begins like a horror film as we see cell phone footage of Cobb and a fellow racist parading around town with their guns.  It’s not enough to try and hijack Leith; they also have to cow it into submission, and Nichols and Walker want us to know that the monsters have come to terrorize the townspeople.  These monsters aren’t misunderstood or misguided.  They’re pathetic, and in my head I was cycling through ways the town could defeat these abominations of human nature.

As twisted as Cobb and his cohorts are, they’re also laughably pathetic in their methods.  At first glance, and in the directors’ original approach, they are a horror show come to take over an innocent town.  It’s an empire of pure evil come to dominate a peaceful community, and they plan to do it with nothing more than some plots of real estate and a hate group message board.  That’s not to mention that these walking atrocities have plenty of guns and itchy trigger fingers, and we’re legitimately scared for the good people of Leith.

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And yet my jaw was constantly dropping at the sheer stupidity and subhuman behavior of white supremacists.  They’re so desperate for any foothold that they’re going to come to a place where open lots are described as being “B-roll from The Walking Dead.”  Their big plan is to live in trash piles in an attempt to start a white supremacist utopia where they can be free to hate everyone.  The Southern Poverty Law Center points out that the number of white supremacists has grown, but if these are their tactics, then presumably natural selection will remove them from the gene pool.

I suppose I’m a terrible person that I’m not as horrified as I should be of Cobb and his ilk, but they’re such utter clowns that I feel like Leith should have no trouble beating them.  Everyone in the town wants Cobb gone, and Cobb is hanging out with some of the most stunningly oblivious people the world has to offer.  At one point, a white supremacist shouts “Stop the hate!” against someone who is harassing her by sitting in his car.  Cobb’s plan to take over the town seems clever a half-second, and then it becomes clear that it’s just another delusion of grandeur.

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Nichols and Walker take us month-by-month of Cobb’s irritating presence and how the town tries to deal with him.  We occasionally graze across the issue of the first amendment protecting white supremacists from being kicked out of the town for their loathsome beliefs.  But the movie isn’t interested in exploring a legal argument.  It clearly draws the battle lines, and we’re all rooting against Cobb.  The tension comes from wondering what crazy, stupid, and/or laughable thing he’ll do next.  However, the anti-climactic conclusion feels like a result of the production running out of money when it’s clear that they should have stuck with the story longer.

My amusement with Cobb’s personality and his fellow freak shows isn’t meant to disrespect the fears felt by Leith’s citizens, and it isn’t to brush off the real threat white supremacists pose.  Welcome to Leith invites both the horror and the humor of this unique situation where a crazy person thought he could overtake a town just because it was small.  Cobb never seems to realize that in this twisted scenario, he’s the small one.  He and his whiny idiot cohorts have always been small, and they always will be. They’re no match for a town of 24 people.

Rating: B

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