REVIEW: Laguna Ave (2021)

dir. David Buchanan.

Drawing heavily from Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), director Buchanan’s cyberpunk horror follows the story of musician-turned-menial worker Russell (Russell Steinberg) as he tries to figure out where his life is going after losing his job. Things go from bad to bizarre when a mysterious noisy neighbour enhances Russell’s prosthetic arm and begins to involve him in his world of cyborgs and conspiracies.

A slacker comedy filmed completely in black and white, Laguna Ave combines its deadpan delivery with downright madness, making it extremely reminiscent of Kevin Smith’s Clerks (1994) if it was set in the CyberDog store of Camden Town. The character of Russell, whilst not exactly likeable, is recognisable as someone who doesn’t take responsibility for their actions and is impressionable when it comes to paranoid conspiracy stories. Likewise plot points involving chips inside human bodies and invisible transmittance waves plant the film’s subtext firmly in zeitgeist attitudes and the rise of QAnon.

The dialogue and delivery feel – at times – somewhat ropey and forced: however it’s hard to imagine that this wasn’t a conscious decision by Buchanan and screenwriter Papadeas, weaponizing a bad sci-fi B-Movie trait. Russell’s descent into mind melting madness is interspersed with black metal music video style sequences which unfortunately feels out of place amongst a feature that otherwise has such an enjoyable punk soundtrack.

Boisterous yet entertaining, it’s ultimately a demonstration of how paranoid tendencies can be a dangerous and destructive force, calling into question whether we have all become “cyborgs” (that is, physiologically dependent on electronics). It also boasts a cracking hand-to-hand combat sequence, whilst the finale is unquestionably made to be experienced on the big screen, and – just like the rest of Laguna Ave – will leave audiences wondering “What the hell was that?”


Ygraine Hackett-Cantabrana

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