A lone drifter wanders in the countryside, subjected to random violence and driven by hunger. But then he stumbles upon the scene of what looks like a gunfight. Creeping into the mobile home, he discovers a tableaux of a family dinner gone very, very wrong.
But to a hungry man, food is food, and he makes himself at home at the table, reflecting on his station in life and the state of humanity. But this is one dinner that isn’t quite finished.
Writer-director Justin Robinson short drama is both a strange, surreal capturing of a turning point in one man’s life, and perhaps a reflection of the illusion and dark underbelly of the American Dream.
Like the drifter, we feel we’ve stumbled into the denouement of a different story that happened offscreen. But with excellently calibrated camerawork, burnished yet lucid cinematography and an eye for telling detail, the film pieces together clues of a home that covered up its dysfunction in a layer of schmaltz, erupted in violence and is being picked over by the so-called “riffraff” in its aftermath.
The elements of the narrative are pared down in terms of production — there are few characters or events, little dialogue and really one main setting. But the film does a lot with these elements, achieving both a sense of grit and whimsy that is singular in tone and execution.
What starts out as curiosity for both the drifter and audience builds with wonderfully quirky detail into a strangely ominous tension. But it also has moments of levity and humor, thanks to performances that are vivid and specific, despite their relative brevity in the story.
Mix in the deadpan violence of the Coen brothers with the humor of Tarantino and a visual sense that reads like a more Americana-inspired Wes Anderson, and what emerges is a short that is captivating in its command of craft and uniquely unforgettable in its sense of place, time and worldview. Call it, perhaps, the United Strange of America, a place where homes are filled with tchotchkes instead of love, and the family dinner features violence and mayhem alongside its meat and potatoes. “Riffraff” is a vividly evocative postcard from this place, and lingers uneasily in the imagination well after viewing.