Iowa is so stupendously slipshod that even mentioning the classics it vainly attempts to emulate would be to give it too much credit by association. Purportedly a “cautionary tale” about the Midwest’s raging methamphetamine epidemic, writer-director and star Matt Farnsworth’s debut is in fact just a turgid series of druggie hallucinations, softcore sexual trysts, and violent confrontations, all of it shot on DV (or on 35mm that was scanned and edited on DV) that, to put it mildly, is a model of grainy, muddy, low-contrast ugliness.
After his father dies, Esper Harte (Farnsworth) learns that he’s in line to inherit $200k, a windfall he believes will allow him to finally marry his airheaded girlfriend Donna (Diane Foster). However, Esper’s mom (Rosanna Arquette) also wants the cash, and joins forces with her crooked parole officer lover Larry (The Pretender‘s Michael T. Weiss) to kill Esther. Shortly thereafter, and for absolutely no reason other than to provide the director with opportunities for schizophrenic speed shifts, warped music, and assorted nightmarish images, Esper and Donna begin using, producing (with convenience store ingredients), and selling crank, in the process propelling their lives—as well as those of their friend Nick (David Backus) and his skanky dominatrix girlfriend Dominique (Amanda Tepe)—into a narcotic freefall.
One might say that the film itself nosedives into mindless gratuitousness right around the point at which Larry employs chains and a pistol to brutally rape Donna, but that would imply that Iowa initially begins as something better than an exercise in meandering, amateurish sleaze. How Farnsworth convinced Arquette and John Savage (as Donna’s tormented father Irv) to participate in such a wretched project would undoubtedly prove more interesting than the on-screen story, which is filled with lame dialogue that disastrously strives for hipness (“I treat everything like a pussy,” opines Larry; “I think the only place dirtier than the East Coast is Mexico,” says Irv) and multiple scenes of a nude Foster that, between their absolute superfluousness and the fact that the actress is Farnsworth’s real-life wife, exude a quasi-pornographic nastiness.
In the press notes, the filmmaker, when not being ludicrously hailed as the second coming of [insert legendary auteur here], is praised for steering clear of treating his rural locale with condescension. But between its crummy aesthetic, narrative inanity, and cast of characters prone to justifying their bad behavior with statements like, “We’re free, white and 21, aren’t we?,” condescension seems to be exactly what Iowa deserves.