The Factory and the decline of Cusack

Our series exploring Montreal-shot films continues with this sleazy thriller, shot almost five years ago but only making its inauspicious debut on DVD last month.

John Cusack in The Factory

Alex Rose’s Made in MTL is a series exploring films from the vaults shot and/or set in Montreal.

The Factory (2012)

Does Montreal play itself? Nope. Montreal is standing in for Buffalo, a slushy, snow-covered wasteland, in the dead of winter. Some would argue Montreal looks most like itself when it’s covered in a foot and a half of the white stuff, but the illusion’s good enough in this case.

Most egregious local landmarks: As befits the film’s Buffalo-in-a-perpetual-snowstorm setting, the backgrounds are often obscured by snow flurries, making location identification rather difficult. A nondescript building up the hill from Lucien L’Allier stands in for the Buffalo police station, and the rest of the film seems to take place in the bombed-out back alleys of the area. NDG stands in for suburbia when necessary, and there’s the inevitable car chase sequence around the port.

Notable local talent: There are many recognizable names in the credits, but the vast majority of them are relegated to tiny bit parts, often without dialogue. French-speaking 20-somethings may recognize Quebec teen TV mainstay Luis Oliva as one of the witnesses.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what took John Cusack from being everyone’s favorite everyman to appearing in an unbroken string of B-grade crap that rivals the output of late-period, whiskey-swilling Oliver Reed. There’s not much left of Cusack the good-guy romantic comedy lead these days, from his increasingly scattershot film appearances to his often-incomprehensible Twitter ramblings, so it’s not entirely surprising (though still fairly depressing) that he’s popping up in dubious straight-to-DVD fare like The Factory.

Shot almost five years ago but only making its inauspicious debut on DVD last month, The Factory doesn’t exactly fit the mold of most long-shelved projects: no one went bankrupt, no one died and no one is under investigation for financial crimes. It’s got the muscle of superproducer Joel Silver and genre production shingle Dark Castle behind it and no (public) history of post-production scuffles, but it’s the most logical answer that seems hardest to swallow: could the studio responsible for the Stallone flop Bullet to the Head really look at The Factory and think “fuck this”?

Cusack plays a dedicated-yet-rumpled Buffalo detective who’s become obsessed with solving the disappearances of prostitutes from the area. He’s a workaholic father of two — exactly the kind of character, then, that has horrible things happen to him in movies like this. Sure enough, his teenage daughter (Mae Whitman) is whisked away in a creepy van by a creepy dude (Dallas Roberts) and held captive in his basement alongside the missing prostitutes that he keeps as “wives,” attempting to impregnate them and therefore create his idea of a perfect loving family. Protocol flies out the window as Cusack punches, screams and smashes his way through various clues and witnesses, much to the concern of his partner (Jennifer Carpenter).

It might be faint praise, but I have to applaud The Factory for having the courage of its gross, exploitative convictions. It’s exactly the kind of sleazy grime-fest that one usually expects from the new millennium’s equivalent of the drive-in: the first 20 minutes have chopped-up bodies, a rape scene and Cusack matter-of-factly saying the words “a chick with a dick.” By the film’s bleak, downbeat ending, it’s clear (and more than a little surprising) that The Factory has more to do with Gallic horror films like À l’intérieur than your average action cop-thriller. Granted, it’s nothing spectacularly original in the realm of crime fiction, but at the very least it hearkens back to the days of exploitation films being exploitations films and not just self-aware space fillers.

All of this scuzz and grime don’t necessarily make The Factory a good movie. The characters are thinly drawn, director Morgan O’Neill tends to lean heavily on telegraphed musical cues and, without an actual whodunit aspect (we more or less know exactly what’s happening throughout; it’s only a matter of Cusack finding it out), the film’s middle act seems flabby and aimless. Unlike something like last month’s Made in MTL feature Taking Lives, however, The Factory understands the prurient, tasteless nature of the material and doesn’t try to mask it with gravitas and pretension. It’s a nasty little piece of work, not a particularly good film but one that definitely benefits from its ugly, compulsive car-wreck aesthetic.

And props on the production team for filming in the midst of a Montreal winter. That doesn’t seem to happen that often, either. ■

Alex Rose explores the worst of cinema on his podcast and blog, Why Does it Exist? @whydoesitblog on Twitter.

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