'Wrecked': The Accidental Woodsman

An experiment in minimalist filmmaking and a virtual one-man show for Adrien Brody strips character, plot, and exposition down to essentials, then reconstructs a coherent narrative.


Director: Michael Greenspan
Cast: Adrien Brody, Caroline Dhavernas
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Rated: R
Year: 2011
Release date: 2011-08-30

One of a series of short video vignettes on the Blu-ray disc for Wrecked provides a clue to the structure of this unusual film, which begins in an old beater car that has crashed in a remote hollow. “Flight of the Chevy” tells us how the junker got there. In order to carry it to the location, the crew had to strip the car down to a skeleton: removing the engine, doors, and dash so a helicopter could lift, transport, then lower the Chevy into place. It was partially reassembled onsite, and tight angles and careful editing create the illusion of a complete automobile in the film.

You could say the same about the script. An experiment in minimalist filmmaking and a virtual one-man show for Adrien Brody, Wrecked strips character, plot, and exposition down to essentials, then reconstructs a coherent narrative.

A man regains consciousness in the passenger seat of a wrecked car in the middle of the forest, injured, disoriented, and unable to remember who he is or how he got there. He manages to free himself from the wreckage and attempts to crawl out of the woods. Along the way flashes of memory vie with hallucinations as he recalls bits of his past and identity.

Wrecked begins with a close up of a bloodshot eye in lieu of a traditional establishing shot, slowly orienting us with point-of-view glimpses of the car and surroundings, a perspective that forces us to share the bewilderment and anxiety of Brody’s character (named only “Man” in the credits). Man barely appears human after the accident that has left him in his predicament, his face grotesquely swollen and covered with blood. His first utterances are grunts and whimpers.

Slowly Man takes stock of his surroundings. The car dates from the '80s at the latest, judging from the old-fashioned pull-up door locks and push-button radio. A corpse lies in the backseat; another decorates the hillside beyond the car, presumably ejected through the broken windshield. A gun and a bag full of money round out the paraphernalia. The car radio offers tantalizing hints of exposition. These are the trappings of film noir, and they make us, along with Man, jump to conclusions in order to make sense of the scene.

Expectations engendered by noir conventions persist until the film’s revelatory ending twist, but the middle of Wrecked resonates with hoary American mythology about the forest, a transformative space in stories and films as diverse as Last of the Mohicans, “Young Goodman Brown”, Deliverance, and The Deer Hunter. “In the woods we return to reason and faith,” wrote Emerson (who likely never awoke in the forest in a wrecked buggy alongside a corpse and a sack of large cent coins).

Still, while Man’s experience in the wild harrows rather than exhilarates, his journey does begin to reintegrate him. His face starts to heal and the swelling goes down. The horrid leg injury we briefly view early on seems to improve. An impromptu and unintended detour down a raging river neatly wraps up Man’s passage as a baptism and rebirth.

The will to remember who he is, to fit himself into a recognizable plot, occupies Man for the bulk of the film. At times the monotony of the woods, and the mingling of dream and reverie suggest that all Man’s efforts to find his way back to civilization and his place in it could be transpiring inside his head.

There’s not a false note in Brody’s performance. From using the car’s ashtray to catch and drink rainwater to crab-walking across the leaf-strewn forest floor, he makes Man’s progressively resourceful behavior and embrace of increasingly desperate measures appear natural and appropriate. The Acting Studio met Survivor during filming, to hear Brody describe his preparation for his role in the Blu-ray’s making-of featurette. He admits to having “experimented” “with sleep deprivation” to get into character, and met producer Kyle Mann challenge to eat a bug on camera (for his part, Mann ate one, too). The ant he snarfs from the car’s dashboard tasted “like a raspberry vinaigrette”, the actor reports.

Wrecked ends with a satisfying twist, but is too stingy with revelations along the way. A more gradual explication of Man’s back story might have been more satisfying. Brody’s performance, however, more than makes up for this flaw.

Video vignettes “A Day in the Life of George” (a portrait of a prop corpse) and “The Woman’s Perspective” (about a supporting character’s role in the film) complete the lineup of extras.


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