Is Josh “Skreech” Sandoval the least deserving documentary subject ever? That’s the only absorbing question raised by Dragonslayer, Tristan Patterson’s portrait of the aimless on-the-skids skateboarder, who during this indulgent film struggles to plot a course for his wayward life as his once-promising pro-skating career fades and his responsibilities as a new father mount. Patterson provides no context for his material, instead choosing to let facts about Skreech’s life and circumstances slip out through offhand comments at random intervals and amid beautifully shot montages of kids grinding in abandoned Southern California pools and puking at late-night house parties. His approach is borderline abstract, and when melded to his fondness for sudden moments of wannabe-poeticism (an image of Skreech and his still-in-braces teenage girlfriend Leslie silently wandering off into the woods, or the two silhouetted against a nighttime sky by a beach bonfire), it creates a mood of palpable pretentiousness. That atmosphere is thoroughly unwarranted by Skreech himself, a scrawny, scruffy nobody who stumbles through his days and nights, scrounging for money and bumming cigarettes, in a seemingly perpetual drug and alcohol haze that nonetheless only seems partially responsible for his dimness, lack of motivation, and general waste-of-spaceness.
Shots of Leslie gazing off sorrowfully in the background while Skreech makes an ass of himself (drunkenly dropping a burger out of its bun, getting a tattoo) are ostensible attempts to show that not everyone is always smitten with Skreech’s walking-disaster existence. Yet those instances are few and far between in Dragonslayer, which primarily treats Skreech with admiration for his iconoclastic outside-the-lines lifestyle and roll-with-the-punches ethos. Just as it grazes up against contemporary economic concerns (hey, there are many more abandoned homes with empty pools in SoCal these days!), Patterson’s film shows a faint inclination toward positing Skreech’s tale as one about a man forced to learn that maturity and responsibility are unavoidable. Those ideas, however, are subsumed by the director’s fondness for aesthetically celebrating Skreech and his subcultural brethren through glossy cinematography awash in brilliant colors and magic-hour hues, as well as a soundtrack of jangling, dissonant feedbacky guitars. Bouncing from one skating shindig to another in which Skreech proves an unkempt blank incapable of seeing the go-nowhere trajectory he’s charted for himself, and ultimately ending on a faux-serious note in which Skreech tries to grow up, it’s a film that makes a strong, if unintentional, case for the pathetic emptiness of the punk-rock life.