Gully Synopsis: Three friends from a rough Los Angeles neighborhood (Kelvin Harrison Jr., Charlie Plummer, and Jacob Latimore) embark on a wild night of out-of-control partying, but when the rampage stops, the retribution begins.
With a unique Boyz n’ the Hood meets Clockwork Orange premise, marquee music video director Nabil Elderkin’s long-delayed narrative debut, Gully (it was initially filmed in 2018), analyzes improvised communities complex intersection between wistful, good-natured people and their oppressively dire conditions. Elderkin and screenwriter Marcus J. Guillory confront fascinating and ambitious social dynamics, but their abrasive film never matches its raw bravado with enough substantive reflection.
Violent video games, mental illness, domestic abuse, sexual grooming, and untamed PTSD are amongst the busy array of intense subject matter Guillory attempts to unearth. Jam-packed into a breathless 81-minute runtime, Gully lands like a bloated concoction of zeitgeist ideals. The script combats audiences with a plethora of disturbing connotations, but without meaningful shading, these sequences only stand out for their empty vulgarity.
Guillory’s laborsome diatribes and played-out narrative detours only work to stand in place of insular developments (Terrance Howard revives the “wise homeless man” cliche with painfully overworked results). Far too often, the film feels like it’s screaming towards the audience without ever fleshing out the overarching thesis. It’s a screenplay bristling with great intentions, yet Guillory’s sprawling tendencies end up becoming his biggest downfall.
Elderkin’s direction is similarly over-indulgent. He and cinematographer Adriano Goldman integrate a few technically promising techniques, including an intriguing blurring of the boys’ violent crimes with video game HUD displays. However, the filmmaking’s clumsy visuals and blunt heavy-handedness consistently hold Gully back. Whether it’s budgetary restrictions or simply inexperience, the film’s busy imagery lacks the poise to convey more meaningful conceits. Films with similarly weighty ideas present proper balance (Sundance’s On the Count of Three shares a similar nihilistic streak), often finding ways to marry their overwhelming dread with a silver lining of humanity. Elderkin and Guillory get too caught up in the noise to really uncover their supposed heart.
Gully’s lopsided delivery still finds genuine sparks. Elderkin and company couldn’t have asked for a better set of young actors to portray their wayward protagonists. Kelvin Harrison Jr., Charlie Plummer, and Jacob Latimore imbue volatile personas with empathy and sincerity at every turn. Harrison Jr.’s cold gaze relays untamed pain from his nonverbal persona, while Plummer and Latimore’s brash energy never masks their inherent struggles. The trio develops a bond smelted through the fires of anger and torment, with the actor’s convincing rapport emotionally connecting to the character’s unshakeable solidarity.
I love what Gully represents on paper. More movies need a sense of raw vitriol to match the underlying feelings of their subject matter. That being said, this is a largely unkempt and ineffective attempt to ruminate on disenfranchised youths and the myriad of factors driving them to their breaking point.