Every so often there comes a film which your dutiful reviewer must put in the 'dafuq did I just watch?' pile. Actually, that happens fairly rarely. Usually you can get an inkling of what the writer and director were aiming for, but in the case of In The Hell Of Dixie, I'm left confused. Is it a horror movie? Drama? Instructional video? (OK, that last one was a joke, but this movie, that takes two hours to get where it's going, is no joke. I don't know what it is.) Read on if you dare, because I can assure you that by the end of this review you'll be just as confused as I am.
We'll start off reviewing my notes, which are often positive and hopeful. I confess to thinking the movie has a 'great script', although it is generally clumsily acted. I note that Dixie is 'curious, but enjoyable'. I mention that the first 20 minutes is 'awkward, but very intriguing'. Then after an hour my brain jumps out of my skull, toddles off to the corner bar, and has a couple pints, leaving me to deal with the movie. It's at this point I decide that In The Hell Of Dixie is what happens when Jean Luc Goddard, Harmony Korine, Wes Craven and the Trailer Park Boys rear-end each other on the freeway.
Ned wants a Police Department promotion from Sheriff Pete. He's got a supportive spouse standing by his side, and a bunch of redneck friends belonging to their self-made Pig Ridge Hunting Club. Sheriff Pete likes to sleep with every woman in town. The Pig Ridge boys occasionally get into a drunken brawl. The younger ones drive around town like members of a Hicksville West Side Story gang, looking for chicks to dance with. In case this ambling, convoluted slice of Southern Life bores you, every so often an adult dressed like a little girl appears, stabbing somebody, occurrences which might be connected to some kid who got killed in a "fucked up magic show", but this connection is either never cemented, or I totally missed it. I'm ashamed to say I couldn't even figure out who the killer was upon reveal. I'm comfortable saying our killer is very close to being a mere subplot in a movie that seems more a plotless Southern Slice Of Life than a horror movie.
What Dixie does have is a bunch of great, naturalistic dialog, there's a ton of talking, and a boatload of carefully observed details. I mentioned Goddard earlier, and it's probably not that apt of a comparison, but Dixie seems very naturalistic, and sort-of anti-film. At its best, it's a clinically deep observation of Southern life that just happens to have a killer roaming around. But for casually loaded inconsequential instances, such as when a woman hands Sheriff Pete a post-coital wet washcloth with which to wash off his privates, an equally profound lack of directorial discipline seems to reign. Why, for instance, do characters stop to chat about sports 90 minutes in, when they're chasing the killer? Or why show us a man rooting around in the refrigerator for two minutes, looking for a snack, if not to set up everyday tension for a shock that never comes? Why indeed toss a highly stylized sequence of boys facing girls, as if they're about to break into a song and dance sequence, only to have this purported plot device lead nowhere?
In The Hell Of Dixie may be a connect-the-dots potboiler in which the dots are arranged randomly by a pigeon or something. (Either that or it's way too ambitious for its own good.) With lots and lots of talking, most of which comes across as overheard conversations emanating from people we'll never know, Dixie is engrossing despite itself. Horrific bloody killings seem just an aspect of life in this Southern town, things that happen while regular folk are on their way to the tavern. Sharply observed details and great dialog with an ear for naturalism fail to gel with anything else in the movie, making In The Hell Of Dixie a first-rate head-scratcher. You should Rent It if you're feeling truly courageous.