Joel Potrykus’ Buzzard is many things. It is a horror-comedy-satire about a metal head slacker sticking it to “The Man” that never falls into the same rough, cynical problems that befall its system critiquing peers. This is largely due to the fact that, above all, Buzzard is a honed character study in which its form, its script, and an outstanding lead performance from Joshua Burge are perfectly in sync, resulting in an odd blend of hilarity, awkwardness, horror, and a sting of familiarity. This thing – wait for it – buzzes with truth.
Burge plays Marty, a 20-something temp worker at First National Bank. His way of “sticking it to The Man” comes in the form of small-time con deals (the film begins with an uncomfortably long take – the first of many – in which Marty closes his checking account only to immediately open another in order to exploit the bank’s $50 promotion). Potrykus, and by extension Burge, have Marty so expertly pinned down that every single action feels exactly right. Marty is wholly unlikeable, and often downright detestable, while simultaneously fascinating (and even likeable). Buzzard is full of these contradictions. It’s impossible to nail down. It is through these contradictions that Potrykus is able to cut deeper with his satire – by creating an unsettling character study examining a slacking, buzzard-like protagonist he avoids the didactic finger pointing that plagues lesser corporate satires.
Instead, Buzzard shoves Marty down our throats until we start to see ourselves in him as he falls further and further into his understated psychosis. This isn’t some massive, insane meltdown. The way Potrykus underplays every aspect of the film kills two buzzards (sorry, couldn’t help it) with one stone – it elevates its comedy and makes Marty’s world even realer. His paranoia after a bogus check cashing scheme appears to go belly up feels real because he isn’t spurred into some grand fugitive action – he panics, but is never truly willing to change in his slacker ways. He simply hides out in his co-worker’s basement.
It’s a testament to Potrykus’ skills as a filmmaker that a movie about a slacker could have such a snappy, cohesive narrative. He begins with the humor (that opening moment of Burge destroying a Nintendo Power Glove followed by blaring death metal ranks for me as the funniest sequence of the year) and slowly adds layers and layers to the movie without ever removing those laid down at the beginning. Marty interests us, then he disgusts us, then he endears himself to us, then he scares us. He’s the type of modern, fractured soul (evidenced by that beautiful final shot) who doesn’t care about anyone, but deep down he’s searching for a connection. If you’ve seen it this statement will sound even weirder, but it moved me. Buzzard is simultaneously one 90-minute punchline, and one 90-minute haunting note (or discordant metal riff, you decide).