‘…even if some mysteries don’t fully explain themselves, Atrabilious is a very entertaining work from a promising director…’

Yep, that title caught me out as well; atrabilious means irritable, or prone to melancholy, but there’s not much about William Atticus Parker’s indie mystery to feel sad about. This is an unusual film that’s very much part of the NYC indie scene; if you’ve hung out at eclectic festivals like Tribeca, Hamptons or Brooklyn/Williamsburg, you’ll have a clue as to what the result might feel like; noir, neon and New York. Atrabilious has a few quirky, off-the-wall ideas to deliver plus a capable cast to get them over the line. It’s also as tricky as the title; this is a film that slips from Shakespeare with Kim Wilde without missing a step, so it’s probably as well to read up a little to figure out exactly what you’re getting into…

Leon Addison Brown plays Steven Joyner, who we first encounter as he recovers from the loss of his son, although as the narrative unspools, we soon begin to wonder if his son is dead at all, and so does he. Either way, Joyner is in a state of mourning, and relates the reason for his sadness to practically-minded therapist Andrea Hart, played by Whoopi Goldberg. Joyner is approached by the mysterious Vincent Daugherty (Jeffrey Wright even cooler than usual in shades), who clues him (with a punning barcode, of course) into a mysterious drinking establishment called Atrabilious where they practice an arcane brand of therapy known as ‘cocktail bereavement coordination.’ Rather than sticking with his prescription for clonazepam and in need of a new drug, Joyner investigates further, leading to a rabbit hole of adventures and strange characters like Proctor Carlisle, played by Alec Baldwin in a lip-smackingly odd turn that shouldn’t be spoiled. And who is the shadowy Eduard (Mark Boone Junior and beard), and what does he know about Joyner’s son’s disappearance, and why is comic Lewis Black popping up in this movie?

Parker has pulled together a cast here that should provide a draw for these seeking an offbeat alternative to streaming fare; the music cues are ingeniously chosen, from Kim Wilde’s You Keep Me Hanging On to an outing for Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down The Line. Parker plays his own chess match with the viewer, never giving away the whole story but feeding clues that sometimes chime, and sometimes mystify. There’s allusions of Macbeth here, since the drinks served in Atribilious bar may be as magical as the witches’ potions, or potentially as lethal or at least deceptive; we’re talking about a super-cultty underbelly which Joyner’s melancholy propels him into, unprepared, as a potential ‘day of ascension’ appears on the horizon…

It would misrepresent Atrabilious to nail such a quixotic narrative down to a single moral; ‘the only way to peace is through control’ catches part of the vibe. Parker made a name for himself with his debut feature Forty Winks, and Atrabilious’ wacky, dark yet often funny narrative won’t do his reputation any harm at all. If nothing else, this has indie DNA that might remind older viewers of Hal Hartley, but is probably best described as original. Parker gets memorably quirky performances from his starry cast, and even if some mysteries don’t fully explain themselves, Atrabilious is a very entertaining work from a promising director.


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  1. “What’s largely missing here is any hint of King Solomon or his mines”
    They should’ve filmed it up Yorkshire way then.

    What do you think of digitally de-aging actors, like in The Irishman? Is this how Harrison is going to be done in the new Indy film?
    And can they de-smug Waller-Bridge too?

    • That is probably true of almost all movies without the Muppets or John Wick, which are movies we can enjoy equally.

        • Yes, but then I have the benefit of a Asimov eye/high brow media education and can appreciate the finer things…

            • What other way is there to read it? On the basis of this conversation, maybe you would like this film after all…

                    • So you get your news from midnight Morse code broadcasts on AM radio?

                    • What is Newsmax like? Not actually seen it myself…The View is like Loose Women here, like an afternoon show where local chicks offer their hot takes on the stories of the day?

                    • Do you think I could enjoy Newsmax or do you think I’m too far down the rabbit hole politically? You’ve noted my extreme views before…

                    • Ok, I hear you. As a journalist, I don’t really believe anything unless it comes from several sources, the more diverse the better. The media are all owned by someone, or always have an angle to sell. But each channel has a purpose, if you’re trying to get to the truth. Otherwise, I get my news digest from arranging the entrails of goats, like everyone else.

                    • Delia Smith’s Predictive Entrails Vol 2 taught me everything I know.

    • The festival? It’s a late spring thing, lovely cinemas, lots of in person and unusual movies. Sadly not returned to the US since the mood darkened in 2016. Used to spend all my hard earned there. Think this one has been running on the festival circuit, but I’m increasingly aware that part of that audience has moved to streaming, so who knows where it’ll turn up? Guelph library?

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