On Thursday, June 1st I had the immense pleasure of attending the one and only theatrical screening of Ted Geoghegan’s newest film Brooklyn 45 in New York City. I’m a fan of Ted’s work so my excitement was at an all-time high when the film began after his wonderful and heartfelt introduction. I went in knowing very little about the film itself, just that it involved a seance and it took place just after the end of World War II. Needless to say, all my expectations were blown out of the water. Geoghegan has crafted a comical, beautifully genuine piece of horror cinema with a lot to dig into.
The story begins simply enough: three lifelong friends and military veterans Marla Sheridan (Anne Ramsey), Archibald “Archie” Stanton (Jeremy Holm), and Paul DiFranco (Ezra Buzzington) along with Marla’s husband Bob (Ron E. Rains) are meeting up with their other friend and commander Clive “Hock” Hockstatter (Larry Fessenden) at his Brooklyn brownstone. Hock is distraught after the suicide of his wife Susan and this grief has given him an interest in the occult and the afterlife. With his closest friends all locked in his parlor, Hock’s plan is to hold a seance to see if Susan has moved on. As it turns out Susan’s ghost is out there, but so is something far more sinister: the reason why she did what she did.
The one-room setting of Brooklyn 45 is brilliant. It allows the audience to really feel like they’re in the room with the characters; it offers an incredibly intimate form of worldbuilding. And because we have all of our characters in one room it doesn’t take long for the film to feel like a stage play. That directing choice is another reason I think this is Geoghegan’s best film. It’s a bold stylistic choice to make your film feel like watching a play and in this case, it adds to the storytelling. It can be hard to make a film feel like a play but Geoghegan excels. It’s clear from the start just how much he loves his characters. Even the ones you might feel some animosity towards he still gives moments to remind you that they’re human beings who just survived a war. It’s so refreshing when the love the director has for their work bleeds onto the screen the way it does in Brooklyn 45. He, alongside writing help from his later father, managed to craft a ghost story about haunted people, and because his script is so smart and paced so well you’re with him the whole way.
Each character has been affected by the war in some way either physically or mentally. As the story progresses you really see just how traumatized these people are even though it’s not portrayed in the way you’d expect. They hide their trauma well but as the night wears on it becomes harder and harder for them to keep it bottled up. Archie, played with such depth by Jeremy Holm, is one of the stand-outs. Archie is set to go to trial for a war crime he may or may not have committed. He struggles throughout the film with whether or not he is a good man despite potentially committing a disgusting act in the name of his country. One thing he doesn’t struggle with is his sexuality. It’s established very early that Archie is a gay man and that’s something he takes pride in. He knows who he is and calls out his friends when they’re being bigots. These are the type of queer characters we need more of in horror. Multidimensional people that aren’t stereotypes or “can-do-no-wrong” perfect angels. Messy, flawed characters that know one thing for certain: they’re complicated but being gay has nothing to do with it.
Throughout the film, their faith is tested. Faith in America, faith in religion, and their faith in each other. A big reason for this comes when we meet the character Hildy (Kristina Klebe). Hildy is a German grocer who lives down the street from Hock and was thought to be a Nazi spy by Susan, and later Hock as well. I was immediately sympathetic to her struggles. An immigrant being the target of hate speech by a woman she doesn’t know? What a fantastic way to tie the 1940s setting to today. Klebe is wonderful as Hildy. She draws the perfect line of making you really feel for the character but also never leaving you with a solid answer on whether or not she is a Nazi spy. I truly believe she’s the heart of the film despite being almost as morally grey as the rest.
Geoghegan has worked hard to create something that starts a dialogue but doesn’t hold your hand through it. He wants you to think about why each character does what they do. Are we bad people when we’re just following orders? What happens when the beliefs we’ve centered our lives around start crumbling away? Yes this is a ghost story and Geoghegan’s got some amazing practical effects to prove it but at its core, it’s about old friends forced to confront the ways war has changed them and changed the way they view their fellow Americans. But he trusts his audience enough to engage with this. Brooklyn 45 quickly jumped into my top five films of the year and I highly recommend you check it out. It’s just really nice seeing an openly queer filmmaker working hard to put films like this out there. I’m so glad the horror genre has artists like Geoghegan and I already can’t wait for what he does next.
Brooklyn 45 is streaming exclusively on Shudder!
REVIEW: Ted Geoghegan’s ‘Brooklyn 45’ Is A Masterclass in Horror Filmmaking