Out of all the movies I watched at the Overlook Film Festival, where I initially screened Brooklyn 45 back in March, it stood out as the best among them. It skillfully used subtlety and derived its scares not from the supernatural, but from the twisted humanity that exists within all of us. The entire film takes place in a single room, and Geoghegan focuses less on jump scares and terrifying monsters, and more on the humans who play God. He questions whether this behavior began when they entered the room or when they were forced to serve. At first glance, it appears to be just another ghost story, but it reveals itself as a profound, personal, and shocking reflection on grief and trauma, all contained within the confines of a Brooklyn brownstone room.
To effectively execute a chamber piece, one requires a certain finesse. Not only do you need talented actors to captivate the audience, but you also need an exceptional script that can hold your interest without external factors playing a significant role. It’s a challenging task that intrigues me, and Geoghegan adds another element to raise the stakes: Brooklyn 45 unfolds in real-time, with its ninety-two-minute duration matching the time passing in the film. This aspect makes the first two requirements of a chamber piece even more crucial. The script must keep the audience engaged throughout the ninety minutes, demanding that the characters experience a range of emotions within a short period while maintaining a constant flow of dialogue.
Despite the universe and humanity’s dwindling attention spans working against him, Geoghegan triumphs with his tightly woven, fast-paced script. He builds tension without relying on elaborate set pieces, although the few he includes are expertly crafted. From the very beginning, we understand the inner lives of his characters, and this knowledge is essential to carry the rest of the film. It unravels like a car skidding on a wet road, taking the audience along for the ride. Accusations are hurled like barbs, and words become deadlier weapons than the gun passed around the room, always on the verge of causing havoc and leaving the audience on edge.
Brooklyn 45 is dialogue-heavy, reminiscent of the “talkies” of the era it is set in, when action took a backseat and actors delivered rapid-fire dialogue. This film is the horror equivalent of “His Girl Friday,” with characters constantly engaging in monologues that bounce back and forth. Larry Fessenden delivers a spectacular performance as Lieutenant Colonel Hockstatter, laden with grief, and he becomes the centerpiece of the action. However, the rest of the cast flourishes as well. Each character is given a chance to shine while reflecting on the horrors of war, whether it’s Anne Ramsey’s Marla reliving her days as a military interrogator or Jeremy Holm’s scene-stealing Archibald Stanton, as secrets about his actions in the name of patriotism are revealed.
The individual stories are intertwined within the film’s supernatural frame story, which revolves around a seance gone wrong, pushing each person locked in Hockstatter’s parlor to descend into madness. However, the film’s focus on the undead elements is merely a conduit for Geoghegan’s underlying message, which centers around paranoia, particularly the kind that arises from post-war trauma in a newly peaceful America. Geoghegan collaborated with his late father, an Air Force veteran, to write the script, and the emphasis on five former military characters creates a stark portrayal of distrust, even among those who have known each other for decades. Trusted relationships sour quickly when things go awry, and no ghost or ghoul in the film can match the venomous vitriol the characters hurl at each other, gradually unraveling the despicable thoughts, feelings, and actions each of them has harbored throughout the war.
It’s unusual to describe such an intense, personal, and harrowing tale as lush, but that’s precisely how Brooklyn 45 feels. The lavishly decorated parlor, with its delightful clutter that would make any antique dealer ecstatic, serves as a perfect backdrop for the richly developed characters, even though the personas of these deeply disturbed veterans are not inherently beautiful like their surroundings. There’s an echo of old Vincent Price films in it, and I’m not just saying that because of Holm’s slicked-back hair and mustache combo. It evokes bone-deep chills, contemplating how our choices impact those around us and how questioning those choices can lead to a fate worse than death.
Despite the potential to feel like a “COVID film” due to its single location, small cast, and minimal necessary effects, Geoghegan’s creative prowess transcends the boundaries typically associated with chamber pieces. This film grabs you by the hair and captivates your attention without you even realizing it. For me, it’s the standout film of the year, easily claiming the title of my favorite horror movie in recent years, even though all the scares come from the idea of what might happen when your closest friends turn against you.