Everyone experiences the confusion and anger of break ups differently, but the brooding main characters in James M. Hausler’s Kalamity take indulgent suffering to another level. From the dreary opening shot of a shadowy figure hunched over the bank of a foggy lake, to the sophomoric voiceover narration about compulsive anger and fate, Kalamity deals in violent forgone conclusions rather than mystery. The intricacies of each broken couple are entirely represented through the male point of view, a whiny, self-doubting guise that uses incomplete flashbacks to convey key moments of manipulation and regret. And by leaning on standard thriller tropes, Kalamity focuses on the physical cost of such experiences rather than anything psychological. Hausler attempts to construct a mental landscape defined by the psychotic tendencies of two best friends simultaneously dealing with this issue, but both men often represent simplistic gut reactions to the tangible pain of losing someone you love.
Returning home to Virginia after dissolving a five-year relationship with Alice (Beau Garrett), Billy (Nick Stahl) finds his recently single best friend, Stanley (Jonathan Jackson), conflicted with powerful bursts of rage toward women. Billy is confused by Stanley’s shift from nice-guy boyfriend to angry young man, but it comes as no surprise to the viewer. Hausler effectively introduces Stanley as a jealous lunatic when he pulls up to a young woman’s car and aims a gun at her, unable to pull the trigger as she talks unaware on her cellphone. It’s as if Stanley is daring the dense characters surrounding him to witness his trek toward serial-killer status, but no one seems to care.
Billy’s more subtle descent into mental uncertainty is far more interesting, as he begins to see an image of his ex-girlfriend in almost every scene. The conversations between Billy and his recreation of Alice establish a dialogue between perception and reality, and Stahl’s honest admissions of doubt and guilt lend the film some emotional credence. Hausler’s one stylistic success comes during many of these scenes when a recurring slow zoom builds mounting tension with off-screen dialogue. For once, the ulterior motives of each character are allowed to seep into the surroundings rather than get spelled out for easy consumption.
Inevitably, Billy’s more subdued and nuanced pain gets steamrolled by the hawkish insecurities of Stanley. Angry looks, blunt threats, and ultimately self-pitying violence become both the movie’s clichéd signifiers of male angst and its thematic center. Hausler never finds a clever way to seamlessly link the two men, opting out for inane plot points that ask the audience to completely disavow logic (the police should have been onto Stanley from the very beginning) and buy into the obvious ending of self-inflicted violence.
Every relationship in Kalamity becomes a sounding board for questions concerning societal roles and relationships, more specifically whether one can find a genuine lifelong partner that doesn’t give up on you at the smallest sign of unrest. While this is a universal theme for many filmmakers, Hausler never separates his vision from the countless other independent filmmakers attempting to put such demons to rest. Instead of finding the romantic complexity in the details of compromise and miscommunication (like say the films of Aaron Katz), Hausler resorts to selfish carnage followed by sudden regret. In the end, revenge confessionals like these are a dime a dozen, and Kalamity is nothing more than an annoying, jilted ex-lover who won’t stop blowing up your life with selfish tirades about how good it used to be.