Tribeca 2019 – Review: GULLY Is An Absolute Assault On The Senses That Works

FIRST IMPRESSION

Gully is a violent film that takes no prisoners, although it has a surprising amount of depth that will leave you hopeful by the time the credits roll.
Writing
Directing
Acting
Technical Merit

Gully is very true to its name, in the sense that what’s depicted is absolutely raw emotion. With his debut feature, music video director Nabil Elderkin provides a reality bending descent into madness that heavily deals with trauma and the catharsis of processing it. Following three friends as they cause various amounts of trouble around Los Angeles, Gully is stylish, unabashedly harsh, and oddly very emotional. For this group of friends really only has each other, and their type of relationship (heinous acts aside) is one that everyone can relate to. Those who you can lean on are essential, and Gully fully shows the necessity of this.

Gully feels juvenile at times, as it simply showcases the teens causing mayhem on the streets, but it’s not without reason. Overall, this film places its three main characters in the aftermath of life altering events, all of which formed who they are. And Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Jesse, who starred in another Tribeca film, Luce, is at the crux of this relationship. For he states, “Sorrow is like treasure. You only show it to your friends”. The viewers and the trio know of each other’s past, but beyond that is a mystery. But with what is known, it’s understandable, although not justifiable, that these boys feel like they want to snap. A father chalks it up to boys being boys, but the reasoning runs much deeper than anything viewers could imagine.

Joyce / Amber Heard. Photographer: Chris Willard in Nabil Elderkin’s GULLY.

With chilling performances across the board, these are characters that convey a deep set pain: Harrison Jr. has piercing eyes that paint vivid pictures, and Jacob Latimore executes an erratically off-kilter attitude, while Charlie Plummer seems able to bottle up rage and implode on command. Paired with some rapper cameos and a strong supporting cast, mainly from Elderkin’s previous music videos, this is a world that feels both organic and populated, which only adds to its layering. For Elderkin’s background allows him to have an innate understanding of powerful symbolism and imagery, of which Gully has plenty. Unfortunately, this also allows for some commonplace music video tropes to seep into the film, but for a debut, that’s understandable. It still allows for a very fluid sense of storytelling, which can forgive the plain direction at times.

Gully is a literal assault on the senses in the best way imaginable. There are parties where drugs and alcohol are in excess, massive amounts of violence are on display, whether it’s in the mind of the teens or legitimate, and video games that mimic GTA and Mortal Kombat. None of these methods of escapism are healthy for the trio, yet it seems like it’s the only thing they know how to do. And while it may feel like certain actions are being glorified at times, it’s important to remember the trauma that is at the base of these actions. With that being said, Elderkin could have emphasized some of the events a bit more in order to have a better view of the trauma being drowned out. Still, it is definitely refreshing to see impactful consequences being brought down upon the world as well, instead of just delusions of grandeur for the entire runtime.

Mr. Christmas / Terrence Howard. Photographer: Chris Willard in Nabil Elderkin’s GULLY.

The final third makes for a great finale, as resolution comes rather quickly and unexpectedly. And the final shot is so incredibly cathartic that it rivals Climax in its release of the viewer. Because Elderkin clearly has a sense of the best ways of dealing with trauma versus temporary fixes. While it may not seem like this is the case at first, it seems evident as the film slowly becomes more and more chaotic. Gully definitely earns the emotional beats it attempts to hit, and while there may be some form of simplification, only so much can fit into such a short runtime. What is included definitely works, so a longer version of this film doesn’t seem to be a terrible idea, although there should be limits. In its more brutal moments, it could be understandably off-putting for those not prepared.

Gully is a hyperactive coming-of-age film that ticks off all the necessary marks to fit nicely into the genre. With a memorable cast and a beautiful depiction of Los Angeles, even though what’s occurring is quite the opposite of beautiful, it plants its feet firmly on the ground. It’s both striking and brash, and for a debut, Elderkin seems to know what he’s doing. With more features under his belt, it seems he will be a bold new voice in filmmaking, and one that will clearly remember his filmmaking roots if this film is any indication.

Gully celebrated its world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and is part of the U.S. Narrative Competition section.

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Alex Papaioannou
Alex Papaioannou
Born and raised in New York. I've always loved all things pop culture, but my true passion lies within film. And the only thing that I love more than watching movies is writing about them! Some close runner-ups are: food, the Yankees, and hip-hop.

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