★★★ out of ★★★★★
Where do Annie Clark end and her St. Vincent rock star persona begin? Her friend Carrie Brownstein attempts to document that until the answer to that question winds up in an absurd, sometimes surreal blur in this ambitious mockumentary.
Directed by Bill Benz
Let me start by stating that The Nowhere Inn is not a horror film, but it falls under the horror adjacent and midnight movie categories. The case could be made that one of the main characters creates a monster, though not one that crushes buildings and tramples cars while rampaging through city streets nor chases hapless victims through nighttime woods. No, this monster is a musician who runs with the ball when asked to be more like her onstage persona during her everyday life.
Annie Clark AKA St. Vincent (who scored horror movie cred with her “The Birthday Party” segment of the 2017 horror anthology XX) asks her best friend and fellow rock musician Carrie Brownstein (of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia fame) to make a documentary of her. Brownstein has higher ambitions than making a mere concert film and wants to show the world the real person behind the St. Vincent persona, but when she learns that Clark’s offstage life on tour is rather normal — which translates to deadly dull for a documentary — she asks Clark to play things up for the camera a bit more.
Clark obliges to a wild degree. No more playing video games and seeking out fresh vegetables during her down time; instead, she has Brown film a sex tape of her and her “new girlfriend” Dakota Johnson (in one of the film’s funniest sequences), hires people to play her fawning Texas family, and so on. The more eccentric and weird Clark becomes as her St. Vincent character takes over her life, the higher tensions rise between her and Brownstein, who is also dealing with a terminally ill father (Michael Bofshever) who sees her becoming a film director as the most creative thing she has ever done.
Bill Benz directs The Nowhere Inn from a screenplay by Brownstein and St. Vincent. He has a lot of ideas to juggle here, and the result is a film that reaches high but doesn’t quite nail all of its attempts at satire of documentaries about musicians, and heads into too many directions to stick a landing on any one of them. The comedy, which tends toward the awkward and uneasy once things kick into gear, produces more smiles and chuckles than big laughs, and the strangeness flirts with the surreal without ever fully committing to head full-on down that path. Many elements work, though, and the technical aspects are impressive. St. Vincent and Brownstein are always a delight to watch, and their chemistry together is great.
The Nowhere Inn should appeal to lovers of strange cinema, mockumentaries, surreal films, and the like. And although part of its mission is to send up music celebrity documentaries, it does boast some fine concert footage of St. Vincent that would be right at home in an actual documentary.
The Nowhere Inn played as part of Vienna, Austria’s Slash ½ film festival, which presented a hybrid edition from June 17–20, 2021.