Donner (Jason Lee), his girlfriend Cassidy (Carmen Llwelyn), Jake (Martin Brooks), his girlfriend Meg (Renee Humphrey), and Az (Jason Mewes) are in financial trouble. All but Jake were denied financial aid and are struggling to find jobs. In need of rent, they convince Jake to buy some beer kegs so they can throw a rent party, but the kegs are stolen out of Az's van, effectively putting Jake in the same boat and sending Donner into an existential funk. When he snaps out of it, he's got a great idea: why not go on a hiking / camping expedition to a relative's cabin in the woods. A change of scenery ought to solve all of their problems...right?
Much like Stranger Than Paradise or, you know, Clerks., Drawing Flies is casual with the development of its story and conflict. In one of the introductions, Smith and Mosier compare it to Dazed and Confused, but even that has more of a traditional narrative. The point of the experience is less about the characters' arcs or plot developments than the general atmosphere of hanging out with the characters and soaking in the experience of their lives. Style-wise, Ingram and Gissing's writing lacks the spark that made many indie filmmakers stand out in a crowd of films made in the mid-'90s, but at least the more casual nature of Flies feels natural. Although there are minor asides about "Scooby-Doo" and "The Six Million Dollar Man", there's no attempt to ape Smith's tendency to dissect pop culture, which is pleasing.
Without an emphasis on the cadence or tone of the writing, the characters' journey into the woods feels like a preview of mumblecore movies, as if the basic core of scenes were there, but the details were worked out between the actors and directors in the moment. It's a testament to the cast's naturalism, a nice surprise given many of them haven't done much outside of View Askew productions. Brooks, in particular, has some special ability to become the glue in many scenes, creating good chemistry with Humphrey and a rivalry with Mewes. It's nice to watch a small production that doesn't feel as if it were made simply so the filmmakers could do something bigger: nobody goes out of their way to show off or chew up the scenery.
Unfortunately, despite a clearer premise, Donner sort of disappears into the background once the characters get out into the woods, which is odd considering the film clearly suggests that he's meant to be the protagonist. Maybe it's a gambit to keep the audience from thinking about Donner's unsurprising revelation, but Ingram and Gissing don't gain much by turning their focus to a bizarre scene of grown men in diapers pretending to be babies in a field. One could argue that taking Donner's crisis seriously would result in a more conventional movie about maturity and focus, but the film's closing scene ends up making Flies feel like a lark without a point of view on the state of frustration the rest of the movie is built on.
The Video and Audio
Sound-wise, Drawing Flies also probably takes a step forward with this DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track, but the limitations of the the original audio are more severe than the picture. Echo and fuzziness are the two biggest culprits -- for instance, parts of Lee's early conversation about "Scooby-Doo" are hard to understand. The louder the delivery of the dialogue, the more distorted it can sound, whether that's just the dialogue itself or the environment (another example: a scene on a bridge over a noisy river). Luckily, only a few moments are really problematic, with most of the film just bearing a slightly hollow, "underwater" feel. Music can sometimes sound flat and a bit distant, but on the whole it's crisper and better-defined than the dialogue, as is Lee's brief voice-over narration. Obviously, the Blu-Ray can only present what's available, and for all I know, the DVD could've sounded worse, so this is acceptable. On the other hand, I can and will complain about Horizon's decision not to include any captions or subtitles to help cover the rougher patches.
First up is a new introduction (3:13) by Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes. Unsurprisingly, Smith does most of the talking, explaining a little about the history of Drawing Flies, explains why the Blu-Ray came to be, and the cast. Next, Mewes and co-director Matt Gissing sit down for interviews (11:28, 2:44), which look back at Drawing Flies. Considering how short Gissing's "interview" is (clearly meant to be an introduction at some point), it's no surprise that Mewes' comments are more interesting, discussing how Drawing Flies convinced him to become an actor, the experience of working in Canada, how Flies compared to Mallrats, and the appeal of its simple plot. The disc rounds out with a photo gallery, and two trailers, for Malcolm Ingram's documentary Bear Nation, and Jay and Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie.