By Zadok Samson, translated from Dutch by René Damen
In April the Stephen King Dollar Baby Festival was live-streamed on YouTube, showing film adaptations of several of King’s short stories, the quality of the movies ranging from amateurish to quite sophisticated. The fun feature was the open chat channel that allowed the public to chime in with the discussion about the shown pictures. One “Dollar Baby” in particular stayed with me: Garrish. Director A.J. Gribble took his inspiration from the short story Cain Rose Up which contains a depiction of a depressed student who shoots down random passers-by from his dormitory window with his rifle.
Gribble swapped the male character for a young woman named Kate Garrish (portrayed by Natasha Bogutzki), and gave her an extensive background, using King’s story for the climax. Kate is raised in a very strict religious family and she’s about to start Middle School. Her rosy future however is severely overshadowed by a tragic event: she’s raped. This scene and all of its aftermath not only deeply impacts the main character, it touches a sensitive nerve with the audience as well.
From the chat conversation it becomes clear how distressing the scene is, particularly for the female viewers. The imagery of Kate crouched down in the shower, trying to wash away the evidence of the crime, hits home hard. One participant, indicating that it comes way too close to her for comfort, decides to quit watching. Another viewer remarks that surely the aftermath is convincingly authentic. I still don’t know how to put that remark in context; my hope is no one speaks from experience.
Of course it happens frequently that movies evoke heavy emotions. Most of the time however the filmmaker is pursuing a deliberate purpose. Gaspard Noé for instance has his main character raped to create a justification for the partner’s revenge later. The viewer is put in the partner’s shoes, who then, in a seething rage, roams the town, trying to locate the perpetrator. Bad Timing by Nicolas Roeg also contains a rape scene, intended to emphasize the sick mind of the male main character. Regarding Garrish, I keep asking myself why Gribble specifically uses the rape as the catalyst for the climax. Why not the psychological abuse by the parents? Or the bullying? An accident?
I decided to ask Gribble this question in person; he was more than happy to free up some time for an interview. First I asked why he was attracted in particular to Cain Rose Up. Gribble referred in his answer to the shooting scene in the short story. In America mass shootings at High Schools and Universities are no longer a rare phenomenon and just like in Rage, Cain Rose Up engages itself in this theme. Because the short story in itself would only result in a minutes long film, it made sense to give the main character more of a background. Gribble said, having a woman for the lead role was a creative choice, a way to give the story a darker spin. In collaboration with the actress Bogutzki, Gribble analyzed what Kate Garrish motives could be, how she ended up committing a lethal act. Rape was one of the options and Gribble decided to go with that. It is something relatable, rooted in reality and emotionally charged.
On those grounds I can understand his choice. Nevertheless I feel that this choice might be somewhat heavy handed. The rape scene makes such a powerful impression on the audience that it overshadows the remainder of the movie, the shooting scene included. One may weigh the irony of this, because that shooting scene was meant to be the highlight after all. I feel strongly that their are basically two films, not in sync with each other. An effort is made to merge the two in an embrace but to no avail. What is Gribble own opinion on this? He confirms it’s a good question, but that he hasn’t the answer yet.
Next question is, if Gribble anticipated the strong emotional response from the audience, this being the era of #MeToo for sure, in which every sexual crime is magnified and analyzed into the tiny details. He admits he was expecting some impact but hadn’t foreseen a reaction as strong as this. He gave the same answer during the Q&A after the showing and then confirmed it in my interview. I follow up with questions like if the rape causes the film to be unbalanced, if it was not overly intense; Gribble again has no answer on that one yet.
I hope he will be more careful with his creative choices in the future. Not withstanding the fact that his film Garrish is not well balanced, Gribble has demonstrated to be a gifted director with great love for the genre.
© Big picture: Stephen King by Marc Andrew Deley through Getty Images
© 2020 – 2021 Fantasize, Zadok Samson & René Damen