With the rose-tinted glasses of hindsight, it’s very easy to look at the era immediately following WWII and assume that it was a time of great happiness and relief — a time when the world collectively celebrated that the bad guys had been eliminated, the victims had been rescued, and a new era of justice and altruism would reign supreme forevermore. To be sure, this feeling did exist, and was certainly warranted, but it was far from a monolith. War means winners and losers, friends and enemies, and a whole hell of a lot of bad memories of moral codes compromised by awful circumstance.
It’s in this post-war gray area that Brooklyn 45 is set. Christmas has just passed, and a group of friends are getting together for dinner at the home of recent widower, Lt. Col. Clive “Hock” Hockstatter (Larry Fessenden). There’s his best friend, Mjr. Paul DiFranco (Ezra Buzzington), a grizzled military stereotype with a concern for his friend matched only by his hatred for “the Krauts;” Maj. Archie Stanton (Jeremy Holm), a gay man who may or may not have committed an atrocious war crime during combat; Marla Sheridan (Anne Ramsay), an interrogator whose sunny disposition belies her special set of skills; and Bob (Ron E. Rains), Marla’s husband, and the one non-veteran amongst them. Together they plan to tie one on and celebrate the end of the war with an unspoken side goal of ensuring Hock’s sanity after the recent suicide of his wife.
Hock is not making a strong case for his sanity, however. He wishes, to the chagrin of his realist cohorts, to lead a seance in the hopes of speaking with his deceased spouse. The group humors him…as do the spirits of the dead.
This dip into supernaturalia places this unlikely chamber piece into the horror genre, but predominantly serves as a method to keep this ensemble cast in one room. The drama here comes in the form of interpersonal conflict: the shared histories of the characters, informed by their experiences during the war as well as the assumptions they each have about one another, both charitable and not. What emerges is a thrilling rumination on loyalty, nationalism, xenophobia, and the ever-present mentalities of “it’s not evil when I do it” and “I was just following orders.”
Brooklyn 45 is the best work yet from writer/director Ted Geoghegan. His script (which was penned with input from his father, an Air Force Veteran and history teacher) skillfully balances historical, dramatic, and supernatural elements, allowing space for each mode to breathe and find connection to the overall themes. Nor does this mashup of genres leave the picture feeling overstuffed or messy — a remarkable feat indeed, and one helped by a crop of incredible performances and a setting that pops with color and detail.
The bulk of the film occurs within a single room — Hock’s parlor — which, through thorough coverage, feels exactly as it should: a bit over-decorated with Hock’s memories, but warm and cozy nonetheless. A shelter against the cold, snowy exterior, which becomes a dark, terrifying prison as the story progresses. Nothing physically changes about the setting, but Geoghan’s direction makes it so.
Across the board the performances are fantastic. Fessenden fans rejoice: the beloved filmmaker gets to stretch his legs as an actor to a degree rarely seen since his own Habit, delivering a monologue for the ages that threatens to steal the whole movie if not for the work of Anne Ramsay. Her performance is tasked with the most heavy lifting (which is not to say that the other actors aren’t pulling their weight — it’s the best ensemble of 2023, hands down). It’s through her Marla that we can see the cleanest evidence of the corruption of war. It’s clear that she has a kind soul and that she carries shame about her work as an interrogator. It pains her to remember the things she’s done…but this pain is also mixed with a sense of pride. She’s good at what she does and she knows it. It’s easy to see why Bob finds her so attractive as well as why she’s so drawn to Bob’s non-violent station in life.
The mix of performance, direction, and exceptionally strong writing results in one of the best, and most original films of 2023 so far. Brooklyn 45 will be available to stream on Shudder on June 9th, but don’t go in expecting a full-on spookfest. The supernatural elements are indeed scary and effective, but it’s the human element that ultimately provides the most chills. It is sure to stick with you long after the credits roll.
Directed by Ted Geoghegan
Written by Ted Geoghegan
Starring Anne Ramsay, Ron E. Rains, Jeremy Holm, Larry Fessenden, Kristina Klebe
Not rated, 92 minutes