If there’s ever been a movie title that perfectly encapsulated the essence of its protagonist, it’s Buzzard. As portrayed with an unsettling and feral intensity by remarkable lead Joshua Burge, temp worker and amateur grifter Marty Jackitansky is nothing if not the suburban vulture the title accuses him of being. He even has the hunched over posture, watery eyed gaze and beaklike nose. Introduced working at the corporate office of a Michigan bank, the only initiative he ever shows is in the pursuit of small-time cons. He takes two hour lunch breaks, exploits promotional giveaways, orders office supplies to resell for personal gain and, most significantly, signs account-holders’ refunded checks over to himself so he can deposit them in his own account. At one low point, blowing his last dollars on an expensive hotel room, he calls room service: “I just wondered if I can get any free stuff?” It’s a line of dialogue that sums up his entire deadbeat slacker ethos.
That philosophy is mined for all its dramatic and comedic potential by Burge and director/writer/co-star Joel Potrykas in what is basically a pitch black character study with ruthless thematic focus. Marty is a scarily credible archetype that’s become typical of Western (and, increasingly, other) cultures in the last three decades or so, a pop-culture-immersed no-hoper who floats from temporary solution to temporary solution in a haze of entitlement and unfocused anger, the product of very modern iterations of solipsism and capitalism. If I was being glib, I’d say that in its own minimalist way, Buzzard is basically a psychological horror version of Mike Judge’s Office Space. Despite the easy fit into stories that could have been told in recent decades (and, indeed, the film could be set in 2015, 2005 or even 1995), Marty’s repulsive and pathetic personality type is one that’s becoming increasingly visible and culturally relevant these days. It’s the Martys of the world that pick up guns and use them in public places as an outlet for their freewheeling frustration, it’s the Martys of the world that lurk on the internet and troll anyone who is the slightest bit different from them. They’re angry because others are happy and their indiscriminate hostility stems from their inability to figure out why they can’t achieve that same degree of contentment.
Marty is a scarily credible archetype that’s become typical of Western (and, increasingly, other) cultures in the last three decades or so, a pop-culture-immersed no-hoper who floats from temporary solution to temporary solution in a haze of entitlement and unfocussed anger.
The characterisation is nuanced and compassionate enough, however, for the film to avoid situating Marty in a vacuum. There are moments here and there that hint at why Marty became this way: he’s the inevitable product of the society that birthed him. In an increasingly oppressive corporate environment in which temp workers float from job to job with no benefits, stability or upward mobility, trying their best to cling to the lowermost echelons of a beleaguered middle class, barely sublimated rage and lack of investment in one’s career (or, for that matter, life) are natural byproducts. The lack of prospects leads to an inability to meet deeply ingrained cultural expectations—as a man, a worker, a consumer—and the result of that is, unsurprisingly, resentment, anxieties, and eventual disaster. It’s not a shocker then that Marty’s misdeeds start to catch up to him, prompting him to spend the hilarious second act of the film hiding out in his coworker Derek’s (Potrykas, practically stealing the show) basement aka. the Party Zone. Or, to be precise, Derek’s father’s basement. Derek is another equally pathetic but somewhat less disturbed product of the system and the pair’s interactions add up to one of the most accurate representations of the bonding rituals of dysfunctional manchildren ever committed to screen, gay panic and all.
The film’s third act is considerably more distressing. This is, after all, a particularly uncompromising example of the American underground cinema, a cultural substratum that rarely gets adequate visibility these days what with its more multiplex-unfriendly tendencies. Upbeat endings aren’t exactly standard issue. As Marty’s emotional disturbance devolves into a psychotically tinged drive to survive, he runs away to Detroit proper and Buzzard‘s tragicomic approach starts to weigh more heavily on the tragic end. This is, when you come down to it, one of the most distressing of contemporary stories, that of the person who decides he’d rather be a monster than a nobody.