Directed by Calvin Lee Reeder
This surreal roadshow of weirdness charts a highway of American grotesquerie as the title's laconic man-with-no-name (Dermot Mulroney), hidden behind aviators and underneath a cowboy hat, gets out of jail, gets kicked out by his woman, and hits the road to Oregon. Along the way, he falls in with an underground boxing promoter, a cab driver fond of Frankenstein, and a man who says he has a machine that can record people's REM-sleep dreams to VHS—though, in a running joke, it just keeps killing people.
He also meets a woman, or rather repeatedly remeets what appears to be the same person, even though she frequently winds up dead or maimed. She's played by Lindsay Pulsipher, who also starred in director Reeder's previous feature, his debut, The Oregonian. That, too, was a surrealist, conspicuously Lynch-inspired road movie, a spin on Carnival of Souls in which a woman gets in a car accident, walks down a highway, and runs into manifestations of her repressed memories. It played like a distillation of horror into its eerie, eldritch, expressionistic essence.
A similar strangeness underlies The Rambler, which also flirts with horror, but it's more surreally accented than straight-up crazy—until the basic plot unravels completely in the third act, starting when The Rambler and The Girl argue about his ramblin', which is rather straightforward until the scene ends with her disappearing into a loop of sound design. What's going on here? Is it the psychological deterioration of a taciturn, bottled-up man? Are the movie's many head injuries physical expressions of psychic wounds? Is it a love story about trying to run away from, but being haunted by, the one who got away? Nah, not exactly; like all attempts to solve surrealist puzzles, such readings dead-end. The flashes of experimental editing, the glitchy and nightmarish qualities of the filmmaking: I'd bet what we're watching is one of those VHS tapes that the Rambler's mad-scientist friend says he can make. It's the cinema of dreams.
Opens June 7