“Sleep is the enemy”
So types insomniac aspiring writer Bill, played indelibly and incredibly by indefatigable indie-horror actor Bill Oberst Jr in Coyote. Insomnia, and the physical and psychological effects thereof, has been mined in films as diverse as Taxi Driver, The Machinist, Fight Club, Bringing out the Dead, and of course Insomnia. Anyone that has licked the lollypop that is sleep deprivation knows that it is a right bitch, and in Coyote, writer/director Trevor Jeunger has crafted a nightmarish exploration of the condition that is relentless, bleak, hallucinatory and artful.
When we first meet Bill, we know he’s already a bit mad as he’s frantically trying to compose a letter to his mother, yet is never satisfied by the results. As the discarded piles of paper become mountainous, Bill types out a fabricated letter from his imagined executive assistant. We learn that when Bill does sleep, he is plagued by horrific dreams of crawling insects and homicidal home invasions. “I will die in my sleep”, says Bill. He keeps himself awake by incessantly doing push-ups and duct taping his eyes open a la Alex in a Clockwork Orange.
Things take a decidedly more bizarre turn when Bill hammers the shit out of his finger, passes out and envisions a nude girl sucking the blood before biting off the digit entirely. A proboscis then emerges from the stump where his finger once was. Later, Bill exclaims “I am a pupa” and looks out his visage in the mirror. An alien, fly-like creature stares back at him.
As Bill’s visions and thoughts become even more intrusive and surreal, he descends further into anger, resentment, and paranoia. He attempts normalcy by stumbling into a job as a cameraman at a home-shopping type network, and even asks an older co-worker out on a date. But his constant auditory and visual hallucinations ensure that achieving normalcy is nowhere near forthcoming.
Eventually, the boundaries between what is real and what is imagined collapse for both the protagonist and the viewer. We see Bill engaging in self-mutilation while sitting in a forest wearing only his drawers and an animal pelt on his head. Later, he’s walking around in the same garb, assaulting passers-by with soliloquies from Hamlet. Eventually, Bill’s inner and outer worlds converge in a horrific orgy of rage and violence.
It is easy to apply the adjectives Cronenbergian and Lynchian to Coyote, and indeed, the film contains elements that the aforementioned masters would be proud to employ. But ultimately, Coyote is it’s own entity entirely. Jeunger has crafted a micro-budgeted masterpiece that is oppressively disturbing, and the off-kilter score and sound mix heighten the already unsettling atmosphere. Although thematically different, the film somehow reminded this reviewer of Harmony Korine’s confrontational conquest Trash Humpers, especially the final frame which leads into the most macabre of closing credits.
Well worth seeking out.
**** (out of five)