There are genuine laughs to be had in Michael M. Bilandic’s second feature Hellaware, but it’s the type of dry humor associated with typical stoner clichés. Although the opening minutes explicitly convey the satiric nature of the film, the director endlessly highlights the obvious and produces a mild amount of shock without opening up a larger dialogue on the subject matter.
Nate (Keith Poulson), a New York City photographer, becomes disgusted with the contemporary art scene after his love interest (Kate Lyn Sheil) hooks up with someone of questionable taste (crayon art). However, like so many hip 20-somethings of modern America, Nate spends his time sulking over a table of cocaine and forces an epiphany upon himself through a YouTube session. It’s a “how about this?!” moment, which reflects Hellaware as whole. And so, the beanie-wearing and non-expressive photog travels to Delaware unannounced to document a crew of shock-rappers named “Young Torture Killaz”; a country version of Insane Clown Posse. Nate immerses himself as the crew performs their would-be hit “I’ll Cut Yo Dick Off” complete with racial slurs. Once the project is finished (at least in Nate’s opinion), he earns the recognition that’s been avoiding him and the dots connect all the way to the most predictable conclusion.
While director Bilandic has a sound foundation in place with Hellaware, it’s almost an accidental meta-satire given the adherence to white boy and country clichés. For one, it doesn’t seem necessary for the Delaware rockers to continuously spout off the n-word, and their complete stupidity only serves as a way to highlight the subjectivity of the New York City art scene. Hellaware could have been more engaging if Bilandic would have explored those removed from hipster Brooklyn, but instead, there’s a bunch of white kids saying “Yo” and a topless blonde girl who doesn’t know any better.
Poulson delivers a fine performance, but I kept on thinking, “When will he prop up his beanie a little higher?” And sure enough, the inevitable scene occurs when Nate meets with good friend Bernadette (Sophia Takal) and barely acknowledges her presence. With all due respect to Poulson, the most interesting characters in Hellaware are Bernadette along with the fashionable Gauguin (Duane C. Wallace). An additional 30 minutes could have benefitted the film, as Bilandic’s characters unfortunately lack substance, much like his weak portrayal of rural America.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor and chief film critic.