Three years ago we played a short film at Fantastic Fest called I LOVE SARAH JANE. In just fourteen minutes, director Spencer Susser crafts a perfect, beautiful, tender coming-of-age moment between an adolescent boy and his first crush. The film played Fantastic Fest, which you might not at first suspect, because this heart-felt scenario is framed within the context of a future world that is a cross between LORD OF THE FLIES and a zombie apocalypse. I LOVE SARAH JANE was my hands-down favorite short of the year, and is still one of my favorite shorts of all time. The zombies are great, the effects are well-done and it hits all the genre notes perfectly. That’s fine and all, but what is really potent about the short is Spencer’s ability to get believable, honest performances out of real kids. For that reason, Spencer was at one time on the very short list to helm the English language remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.
He didn’t end up with that project, but instead wrote another original story, HESHER. Although the backdrop isn’t post-apocalyptic, there are parallels to I LOVE SARAH JANE. HESHER follows the story of TJ Forney, who is quietly bearing the death of his mother and drowning in the misery and depression blanketing his household. Joseph Gordon Levitt is the tonal equivalent of the zombie apocalypse in this film. This quintessential burnout, hedonist metal-head by the name of Hesher drops from the sky and smashes into this quiet family drama, laying a path of emotional and physical destruction in his wake. He ends up, however, being the wildest, most inappropriate yet still strangely effective role-model for a kid since Ruth Gordon in HARLD AND MAUDE. And like SARAH JANE, the power of HESHER is in the touching drama that unfolds within the family as father and son learn to cope with loss in different ways. The tornado of insanity that spirals off of Hesher is just icing on the cake.
We rarely get to see movies as fresh and interesting as HESHER in cinemas today. The film is both wildly out-of-control hysterical while at the same time being a very powerful essay on coping with loss. Spencer Susser is a fabulous new talent, and I encourage all of you to hop on that train and check out HESHER. It opens at the Alamo Drafthouse on May 13th. The delicious new HESHER trailer is below.
By the way, if you liked I LOVE SARAH JANE, Spencer’s next project is a feature adaptation of the short, and I for one will be there on opening day.