Dir. Ted Geoghegan (2023)
A group of military veterans gather in Brooklyn just after Christmas in 1945, where they find themselves confronted by the ghosts of those they faced in the war.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
"The war is over." That simple refrain frames Ted Geoghegan's brilliant new film Brooklyn 45, streaming now on Shudder. Geoghegan plays with paranoia, nationalism, and the inescapability of our pasts in a one-room stage play that feels reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel while remaining increasingly pertinent to America's current social climate. In a country where half of us are still fighting the Civil War and (often that same half) seem to want to embrace the beliefs of 1930's Germany, Geoghegan deftly points out that it matters not whether the war is over because the war, in reality, never ends.
Lt. Col. Clive Hockstatter (Larry Fessenden) has invited four friends to his Brooklyn apartment to take part in a seance in an attempt to contact his wife, who recently slit her wrists after no one believed her that their neighbors were Nazi spies. Joining Hockstatter are Marla Sheridan (Anne Ramsay), the Allies' best interrogator, Major Paul DiFranco (Ezra Buzzington), a grizzled military commander, and Major Archibald Stanton (Jeremy Holm), the trigger man who followed orders and is now on trial for war crimes. Marla's new husband Bob (Ron E. Rains), a paper pusher at the Pentagon, tags along as well, serving as the occasional comic relief who doesn't really belong in this inner circle of "war heroes". Each character is dissected over the course of the film, turning a period piece supernatural drama into a phenomenal and compelling character study.
To say that the parts are played admirably would be an understatement. Fessenden is a legend, playing his part of grieving military commandant perfectly. I was surprised how well the rest of the cast embodied their roles as well, very much presenting a well-rounded cast with far deeper roles than initially expected. The brilliance of Geoghegan's setting is that, with such a small space, the actors shine above and beyond the scenery as we get to know each character inside and out. The hatred that they have for the Nazis is unparalleled but perhaps too shallow: are the Germans any different than the group of Americans we see in the parlor, who have doomed themselves for "just following orders?" Once we are introduced to Hildy Baumann (Kristina Klebe), her foreign foil to the American servicemen and woman draws a stark contrast between what is expected and what is, in fact, reality.
The lessons learned within the film are even more relevant to the last couple of decades, in which we have faced America's dependence on torture as an interrogation technique and the hatred for people who look vaguely Middle Eastern based on one terrible day in New York, than the time period in which it takes place. Geoghegan wisely steps aside from moral judgment, leaving for the audience to decide whether the characters within Brooklyn 45 are actually guilty of their actions and even whether Hildy is, in fact, a German spy, despite standing up to her interrogation. By placing his clever social critique almost a full eight decades ago, we are left to take appraisal of our own values and beliefs without being beaten over the head about current events or receiving a definitive indictment of one side or the other.
The film largely bypasses gore save for a couple of scenes that are well worth the wait and incredibly well done. It's ambience and drama that make the movie, like a horror version of a Knives Out film. As we get to know the characters we realize that we've known versions of them our whole lives. The real magic of the film is that it's so much deeper than it seems, so relevant despite its setting in a bygone era of the Greatest Generation and the last war America won outright. It's the type of film that makes you want to search out a director's entire filmography... which I believe I'm going to have to do for Geoghegan. Brooklyn 45 really is a stellar film, and it's one that more people should see.
Who this movie is for: Period horror fans, Supernatural horror lovers, The Americans superfans
Bottom line: Relevant, compelling and with some of the better performances in recent horror memory, Brooklyn 45 is the post-World War II horror film that I didn't know I needed in my life. I'm a fan of Ted Geoghegan just from limited interactions with him, but this film really shows that he knows how its done. With a few genuinely funny moments to provide levity to the paranoid drama on display, the film is a great addition to the Shudder lineup and a really good showcase for Fessenden and the rest of the cast. Check this one out as soon as you can.