One horror film this year has stuck with me in a particular way. Ted Geoghegan‘s Brooklyn 45 uses the supernatural and post-World War II America as tools to tell a chamber piece story that is presented like a stage play. It’s not exactly the first to do any individual element, but the combination makes it both surprising and intimate.
It’s a freezing December 27th evening in 1945 when five military veterans who are also longtime friends, reunite in the ornate parlor of a Brooklyn brownstone. While each carries their own emotional baggage from World War II, on this night, they have come together, along with partners, to support their most troubled friend.
What should have been a warmly emotional reunion shifts and changes as their host reveals his true intention. A séance to help heal his soul. The group reluctantly agree, but things do not go well, and a supernatural occurrence ends up being the least haunting revelation of the night.
We arrive at the brownstone at the same time our guests do, and depart with them at the film’s end. we may not be privy to the dark and tragic secrets and traumas of these characters yet, but we are there for this one event in this one location in its entirety, watching it unfurl from cosy small talk to sobering, devastating decisions.
Brooklyn 45 has to rely heavily on its dialogue and performances to carry its story, and Geoghegan has a strong cast for it. Anne Ramsay (Mad About You, The Taking of Deborah Logan) plays a former interrogator for instance, and you wouldn’t; think it when you witness her warmth and empathy in the early scenes, but as the situation changes, the weary wartime edge to her comes out, and the performance is filled with the reluctance and self-disgust of having to reprise a life she’d hoped to pack away forever.
And that’s just one of several examples in Brooklyn 45’s story of wartime horrors. Otherwise regular people are being reshaped by a torrid time in history and end up capable of unspeakable things that will haunt them for life.
Some characters here deal with it better than others. Larry Fessenden’s downtrodden and manic host Lt. Col. Hockstetter is the story’s core. the one man who cannot shelve the guilt, grief, and anger of his post-war life. The man who ultimately causes everyone else to confront the ghosts of their recent past, sometimes literally.
Hockstetter provides the story with more than one of its brief but visceral flashes of bloody violence. The conversations and revelations spoken between the group keep the narrative train rolling on, but every so often, they are punctuated with a visual shock to the system. Sometimes dark and bleak, sometimes a bit absurd and unbelievable. All relevant.
By the time we leave that brownstone with the group, a lot has changed, and the existence of the supernatural is not the biggest. The haunting truth that the dynamic of their friendship was significantly altered by the war and the only way to continue that relationship is to adjust to the fact they all did horrific things in the name of freedom and none of them will ever be truly okay with that.