Adam Zarrasky is a paunchy thirty-something working as a bartender in a colorfully lit, but not heavily patronized bar somewhere in the Big Apple. Life for Adam appears to be fairly humdrum until a mysterious, and slightly androgynous femme in a subway tunnel rocks Adam to his inner core with nary a word. However, before Adam can offer even a friendly howdy-do, the love of his life disappears, leaving only a tooth behind, which our lovelorn bartender squats down to pick up. Of course, the tooth is hot (silly fool) and Adam burns his curious little digits, if only slightly, before finally managing to pocket the mystery molar.
Immediately thereafter Adam sits down to break bread with his girlfriend, but before anyone can so much as pass the butter, Adam astonishes her by suggesting they end their relationship. Now single and sassy, Adam is busy lounging on the couch when a prospective roommate arrives to take a look at the apartment. Of course, the prospective roommate is none other than the girl from the subway (you silly fools) and, she has a French accent to boot! The mystery girl reveals that she has a name to go with the accent, Lily, after which she and Adam proceed to engage in awkward conversation highlighted by Lily's deft, rhythmic fingering of a rose.
Much to Adam's chagrin the vexing vixen disappears a second time, only to reappear at a graveyard (much to Adam's...opposite of chagrin), where they smoochy smooch among the tombstones. Later, when Adam visits his mother he is startled yet again when the ubiquitous sex-pot makes another surprise appearance. However, the cake is truly taken when Adam's mother introduces Lily, to a now flabbergasted Adam, as his sister who has been in a coma (in France) for the last nine years.
Initially shocked and repulsed by this news, Adam quickly warms up to his sister, and being the good brother that he is, invites her to stay with him in his apartment. This time Lily accepts her big bro's invitation, moves in, and without blinking an eye, resumes her seduction of Adam. Late one evening Adam brings home some burgers, but unable to resist Lily's charms any longer, the brother/sister duo christen their unwholesome desires in the kitchen, resulting in a scene that is like a Carl's Jr. ad gone horribly wrong. Then, as if incest were not already challenging enough to a relationship, a nosy ex-girlfriend, a horny landlord, acid rain, a surprise visit from mom, a murder by keys, and mutant cockroaches all threaten to destroy Alan and Lily's taboo affair.
Red Cockroaches was directed, photographed, written, edited, and produced by twenty-eight year old Miguel Coyula for a paltry 2,000 dollars. Considering this, and the fact that the film was shot over weekends for a year and enlisted actors who were willing to ply their craft for free, the film does exceed its no-budget origins. While no one gives an award-winning performance, the acting is suitable and Coyula proves at times to have a good eye for composition. The digital effects duties also fell on Coyula's shoulders (he spent another year in post production on the film) and again, all things considered, the look of the film surpasses its 2,000 dollar budgetary limitations.
The script, while problematic, also reveals that Coyula has some intriguing ideas and is not bereft of imagination. He does a fine job of presenting mysterious elements which keep the viewer's attention and also has a knack for infusing his story with a sense of "dream logic." Yet, it should be noted that often it feels as though Coyula has littered his story with mysterious, dreamlike elements but is unable (or unwilling) to use them in a completely satisfying way. In a sense, they are there merely for the sake of being there. This is fine within certain contexts, but if you are attempting to use said elements as narrative devices, then it seems unsatisfactory to just let them lie fallow; for example, the tooth. I was reminded of the tooth which Roman Polanski finds embedded in a wall in his superlative film The Tenant. While the tooth, at its most basic, adds an element of mystery to the film, The Tenant is a narrative horror film, and thus the tooth eventually serves a satisfying narrative function. In Red Cockroaches just as the tooth seems to be taking on a greater importance, and is being used for a narrative thrust, it is abandoned completely. However, if this, and other abandoned ideas are going to be answered in subsequent films (Coyula has a trilogy planned) then fine, but one (meaning me) can't help but feel unsatisfied with all the disconnected dots in Red Cockroaches.
Apart from some of the writing, I also had a bit of a problem with the special effects. To pick on the "quality" of the effects would just be bullying, and despite my enormous strength and my unrivaled fighting skills, I am no bully. The problem is this, they serve no real function other than effects are cool, I guess. The film is set either in the future, or as the director terms it, "an alternative reality." Thus, there is acid rain, mutant cockroaches (that serve no other purpose than to be mutant cockroaches), mutant people (which to my knowledge are only talked about), ships flying overhead at all hours of the night and day, and all of this adds up to nothing. If the idea was that it would make the film more marketable and more visually interesting, I can dig, but integrate these things into your story. I have the same problem with 100 million dollar movies, so when I see it in a 2,000 dollar movie... kudos for trying to exceed limitations, but if it's all for naught, it is just not for me.
Lastly, the title. If you are going to call your movie Red Cockroaches, then Goddamnit, why not give the people some Red mother fuckin' Cockroaches? You know that's what we all want - that's why the film is called Red Cockroaches, right? Yes, every once in a while we see a cockroach (not even sure they were red now), perhaps to remind us of what we are watching, but that is simply not enough. Again, like the other "big-budget" elements, the cockroaches remain on the periphery, frustrating me with their untapped potential. Seriously some more apt, and possibly more interesting, titles for the film would be "Dirty Burger," or my favorite, "Sexual Ketchup" (see above incest food scene, or don't if ketchup used as a lubricant gives you the willies). Again, if the cockroaches, like many other things, will play a larger role in the two following movies, then I tip my hat to those films. Or, maybe I am just a bully.
Red Cockroaches (or Sexual Ketchup, if you prefer) is presented on DVD in excellent fashion by Heretic Films. In addition to a nice transfer of the digital movie, there are a handful of bonus features, including a trailer, a making-of featurette, audio commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, storyboards, and a short film by director Miguel Coyula. It is very cool that Heretic is a company that appears to be interested in finding new talent and giving them wider recognition, while at the same time giving audiences an opportunity to watch and experience a greater variety of films. To learn more about them and their ever-growing film library check them out at www.hereticfilms.com.