The world is crazy, and it can make you feel weak, but Charles de Lauzirika‘s Crave takes fear and frustration and turns it into a meandering bore. De Lauzirika is very aware of his film’s influences, and there’s no pretention about carving out new territory, but he doesn’t show us anything we haven’t really seen before. Just as his protagonist looks to find love and strength, Crave stumbles around trying to find a novel idea worth exploring. Further burdened by miscasting and an ill-fitting visual style, the film slogs around, occasionally bumping into a worthwhile performance or relationship, but is ultimately sucked into a void where the harder it tries to find meaning, the less it means anything.
Aiden Pogue (Josh Lawson) is a crime scene photographer who, when not looking at the mangled carcasses of murder victims, can only see his inadequacies. He envisions himself as a violent vigilante whose brave deeds will be rewarded with sex from beautiful women. When Aiden somehow manages to start sleeping with his cute neighbor Virginia (Emma Lung)—a development that has Aiden breaking the fourth wall to tell us that this isn’t one of his fantasies—he becomes infatuated with her, but his insecurities continue to overwhelm his life.
De Lauzirika is acutely aware of his film’s primary influences, Taxi Driver and Falling Down. At one point, Aiden has a “You talkin’ to me?”-esque scene where he envisions blackmailing a sleazy guy. At another point, Aiden vents his frustrations to his detective friend Pete (Ron Perlman), and Pete responds, “Angry white man routine. Very 1992.” (Falling Down was released in 1993). There’s nothing wrong with drawing from these films as inspirations, but de Lauzirika can’t seem to do anything with them. He’s in their shadow, and Crave runs around trying to find daylight.
Aiden pinballs around trying to find something to give him strength—a gun, photographing the dead, blackmail, and most of all, his relationship with Virginia—but none of it helps. This could be a source of tangible frustration, but the Aiden we see throughout the film is consistent. He’s awkward, he’s socially inept, he’s insecure, and while he may be pushed by circumstances of his own creation, he’s emotionally unaffected, and so are we.
Part of the problem is the organization of the script, and the other parts of the problem are Lawson and the cinematography. Lawson gives a flat performance that never really gives us the sense of someone who’s unhinged. Even when de Lauzirika indulges in Aiden’s violent fantasies, we’re paying more attention to the gore than to the character creating the bloodbath. He’s too handsome to be plain, and his personality is too bland to be memorable. Like the movie, he’s in an ill-defined middle ground that’s uncertain but never dangerous. Similarly, the cinematography is very clean, consistent, and unassuming, and that’s not the best tact for a movie about a burgeoning psychopath. Its only strength is its ability to blur the line between reality and Aiden’s fantasies.
Despite all of the major missteps, it does get its minor moments right. The uneasy relationship between Virginia and Aiden gets off to a surprising start, but once it begins, it feels real. The tension doesn’t come from a violent fantasy or self-loathing. It comes from a guy who is a half-step from saying or doing the wrong thing. It’s a real, human relationship, but it’s surrounded by heavy-handed angst and a desire to shuffle Aiden around so he can fail at punishing wrongdoers.
At its core, Crave does have a relatable and worthwhile issue worth exploring (even if it is, “Very 1992”). It even has honest moments where the issue is shown in an unexpected and unique way. But de Lauzirika is always going big yet going nowhere. He also seems to share his protagonist’s proclivity for always making bad choices. Unlike Aiden, Lauzirika doesn’t come off like a bad guy. He’s not a sadist or self-congratulatory. But as Aiden should know, bad choices almost always lead to negative outcomes.