Reviews

‘The Factory’ Is Just Another Thriller Off the Assembly Line

The Factory hits all the high notes: abduction, abuse, murder, and even fatherly heroics. It seems to have everything going for it.


The Factory

Director: Morgan O'Neill
Cast: John Cusack, Jennifer Carpenter, Dallas Roberts, Mae Whitman
Distributor: Warner
Rated: R
Release date: 2013-02-19

With well-known actors and a provocative premise, it’s surprising to see a film like The Factory go straight to DVD (sans bonus features or scene selection options). It hits all the high notes: abduction, abuse, murder, and even fatherly heroics. But this film’s failure to make an impact is perhaps due to too strict an adherence to the thriller formula. In the end, The Factory leaves you with nothing new, only a sense that you’ve somehow seen it before.

Every year when the snow begins to fall in Buffalo, prostitutes disappear off the streets. The wintery setting is no doubt one of the few remnants of this Quebec-produced film’s Alaskan roots, supposedly “inspired by actual events” surrounding the state’s notorious serial predator, Robert Hansen. But the similarities end there. In The Factory, in three years of investigation no bodies have ever been found, and the unfruitful search for these runaways and street walkers has been tabled. “Now they’re just missing girls that nobody missed.”

Officer Mike Fletcher (John Cusack) has been on this case from the beginning. He's so dedicated to finding these forgotten girls that his amicable relationship with his partner, Kelsey Walker (Jennifer Carpenter), is more tangible than any of those with family. Yet the interactions between Mike and Kelsey somehow seem hollow. Kelsey doesn’t seem to have much of a life, or personality, or even purpose. After declining the Fletcher family’s invitation to join them for Thanksgiving, Mike’s wife Shelley (Sonya Walger) even comments on how the poor girl is barren, both biologically and socially.

Signalled by the pair's continued investigation despite the order to close the case, The Factory’s plot is tenuous. It's rife with convenient coincidences, the most overt of which being the unplanned, random abduction of Mike’s daughter, Abby (Mae Whitman), by the very man he is hunting. Thus imbued with all the customary motivations -- anger, fear, desperation, self-doubt -- Mike’s behavior becomes predictably erratic. While this may seem oxymoronic, the audience expects that his daughter’s disappearance will destabilize Mike, leading him to make questionable decisions, involving, for example, searches without warrants and reckless driving on perilous winter roads. Yet despite the apparent depth of his motives, Cusack’s performance is shallow; we are only occasionally privy to Mike’s inner thoughts, making even his understandable zeal seem out of control and ultimately unbelievable.

Complicating the viewer’s investment in the characters still further, the damsel in distress is thoroughly unlikeable for a significant portion of the film. A classically confused and over-emotional 17-year-old girl, Abby exhibits hostility and hypersensitivity in all her interactions. In fact, it's her own foolishness that ultimately provokes her abduction, making it difficult to identify with her or even consider her a legitimate victim. Gradually, the terrors of her captivity engender boldness, even heroism, belatedly endearing Abby to the audience toward the end of the film. While Whitman’s performance initially is patently overdramatic, she must be given credit for achieving the most powerful character growth in the film.

Carl Gemeaux (Dallas Roberts) compellingly balances instability and insecurity with authority and potency, making this serial killer both complex and terrifyingly twisted. His emphasis on family embodies his inner contradictions -- family is faithful, family is forever, and growing the family is of utmost importance, yet at the same time any perceived treason elicits its destruction at his hands. With Carl’s unsustainable philosophy as absolute rule, his victims also sink into psychosis, manifesting in a serious case of Stockholm syndrome. He builds the sense of family into their trauma, rewarding self sacrifice on behalf of the group, punishing disobedience with fatherly disappointment rather than simple anger, and maintaining his position as the head of the household by forestalling any solidarity among the women through forced mutual injury and betrayal.

But any good thriller has to have a big twist at the end, right? Fear not, The Factory’s got you covered. The many clues sprinkled throughout the film will easily tip off the astute observer, especially due to the utter lack of red herrings. But the big reveal is more generally underwhelming, because it immediately features all these clues in flashbacks, depriving the viewer of any chance to decipher the mystery independently. Paradoxically, the overt identification of these clues both squelches the shock by making the final twist appear obvious and predictable, and is also insufficient explanation. The use of flashback forces a focus on only familiar scenarios, abandoning any new or supplementary parts of the puzzle that could produce a richer, more comprehensive conclusion and thereby elicit a more satisfying reaction.

Alas, while The Factory seems to have everything going for it, it’s merely another cookie-cutter project. Lacking anything unique to make it stand out from the thriller genre, a formula to which it strictly adheres, this film simply fails to follow through on its potential.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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