Thursday, October 20, 2016


Rick Alverson is always growing as a filmmaker. Each project is more “polished” than the next. But that’s not to say his earlier films like New Jerusalem or the film of discussion (The Builder) are UN-polished. They’re not. In fact, a lot of the themes & subject matter from his feature film debut are still very much a part of the fabric of his more recent work like The Comedy & Entertainment. His recent work is less about nature & rural surroundings, but The Builder planted the seeds for all the films in the cinematic universe that Rick Alverson is building. Every protagonist in a Rick Alverson film always deals with some form of depression (Entertainment), melancholy feelings (The Builder), heavy jadedness (The Comedy) or is going through an existential crisis (New Jerusalem). In The Builder – the story of an Irish immigrant’s quest to build a historically accurate cape house, our protagonist (“The Builder”) is overcome with all of the aforementioned feelings along with serious fatigue and bouts of hopelessness & self-defeat. To me, The Builder is Alverson’s take on the romantic idea of doing away with the big noisy city but finding out how difficult that really is to follow through with. The main character in the film moves from Queens to upstate New York after purchasing some land but is so overwhelmed by the task of building a home & living in seclusion that he kind of shuts down. Have you ever had a romantic idea like writing a book, making a film, painting a house, fixing a car, etc and then realized; “Shit…this sounded cool to talk about but I’m in way over my head!” I find myself wanting to leave New York City all the time. But when I think about the logistics of moving & starting over it does sound a bit overwhelming. Not the most overwhelming thing in the world but still overwhelming nonetheless. We’ve also all had major bouts of procrastination when a project seems too ambitious to even start.

With its semi-poetic vibe and sprawling shots of nature, it’s easy/lazy to compare The Builder To Tarkovsky (which is something quite a few bloggers & critics have been doing for the last six years) but The Builder is really more in tune with films like Richard Linklater’s It’s Impossible To Learn To Plow By Reading Books or the cinema of Chantal Akerman (Linklater actually credited Akerman’s work as an influence on his often un-credited feature debut). Sure there’s a “plot” to The Builder, It’s Impossible To Learn To Plow & various Chantal Akerman films but the plot is secondary to the film’s ambiance. I guess you could compare The Builder to Tarkovsky in a kind of backhanded/indirect way in that it has quite a few similarities to Carlos Reygadas’ Japon which is heavily influenced by the work of Tarkovsky (both Japon & The Builder are about depressed/tired men who set out to complete a personal project/task in a rural area but take their time doing what they came to do). But The Builder doesn’t deal in surreality or stream of consciousness like Tarkovskyor or Reygadas. I also think any similarities that The Builder may have with other films is completely coincidental. I’ve read enough about Rick Alverson to feel like he’s one of the few filmmakers that isn’t influenced like other filmmakers are. When he says that Entertainment wasn’t influenced by Paris Texas (something he was once asked at a Q&A) I genuinely believe him. Alverson is quietly (and respectfully) open about what he dislikes in film more than what he does like (a trait I wish more filmmakers had). Sure there may be some uncontrollable subconscious influences on his work that no artist can deny, but I like to think Alverson doesn’t surround himself with tons of films to borrow from. He seems to keep an intentional blind eye to what other filmmakers around him are doing so his work can be original. And I think that’s evident. When you take The Comedy & Entertainment and put them up against the films of hispeers (Kelly Reciahrdt, Lance Hammer, Aaron Katz, Jeff Nichols, etc) you see that his work can’t be mistaken for anyone else’s.

Although speaking of influence, I do find it peculiar that The Builder (2010) - a film about a man trying to build a cabin in the woods – has similar promotional material to a later film about another man known for building a cabin in the woods…

It’s also easy/lazy to label The Builder as boring (another characteristic I’ve seen some critics & bloggers incorrectly use to define it). But have you ever been depressed and/or severely fatigued? It isn’t exactly exciting. It’s droning & sluggish and The Builder conveys that. The faces, expressions & energies exuded by all the characters in the film are that of depressive fatigue. If you’re going to make a film that partially deals with sadness, self-doubt and/or depression - the film should feel depressing. And this does. Without meaning to, or possibly even realizing it, The Builder travels down the path that Haneke made with The 7th Continent as well as Two Lane Blacktop (it should be noted that Alverson cited Two Lane Blacktop as an influence on Entertainment so it isn’t too far-fetched that the sprawling & intentionally directionless vibe of Monte Hellman’s anti-road movie rubbed off on The Builder as well)

I doubt the casual movie fan looking for something “fun” or “exciting” to watch will blindly stumble upon The Builder. You have to kind of be familiar with Alverson’s work or the school of films that it kind of belongs to (Ballast, Wendy & Lucy, Old Joy, The Brown Bunny, Last Days, etc). The Builder is the perfect lazy afternoon film (your viewing experience might even be slightly more heightened or enhanced if you’re familiar with or living in certain areas of upstate New York, New England or Virginia (where Alverson is from & currently resides).


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