Youth adrift in St. Petersburg, Florida probably aren’t too different from those anywhere else, and the ones in Loren Cass bear a pretty close resemblance to those in any number of other films. Yes, the characters in director Chris Fuller’s low-budget debut spend their time fucking, drinking, fighting, and generally not communicating with each other, but the filmmaker’s purpose is to suggest a wider context for their behavior, filling in their frequent on-screen silences with a dense audio mix composed of snippets of poetry (including the rather insufferable scribblings of Charles Bukowski), angry ramblings, mournful trumpet playing, and archival footage detailing the response to the city’s 1996 race riots—the immediate social circumstances of the 1997-set film. These audio insertions serve to deepen the elliptical narrative, suggesting the anger and longing of the film’s directionless characters, situating the action in a fraught historical moment and providing a few rounds of amusing counterpoint, as in one sequence where a man tattoos himself with a discarded needle and a voice on the soundtrack describes the best inkings he’s ever seen: a naked Priscilla Presley juggling pills and a skateboarding Popeye smoking a crack pipe.
Loren Cass follows three principal characters as they wander around the location-shot streets of St. Pete, Fuller’s camera occasionally stopping to take in glimpses of peripheral action: a suicide, a hardcore concert, a gun in a men’s room stall. Jason (Travis Maynard), a young punk rides the bus, gets drunk, pops pills, and brawls with the locals, while imagining his own demise in a series of vivid sequences that the film literalizes, most notably his body turning to smoldering rags as he sits in an easy chair. An auto mechanic, Cale (the director under the pseudonym Lewis Brogan) takes up with good-time gal Nicole (Kayla Tabish), a local waitress known for her sexual proclivities, in a relationship that provides a temporary hedge against irrelevance. In between, other townspeople strut their hour on the stage: local yokels down booze and talk shit in a pickup truck, a school administrator sneaks a swig of Jack from his desk.
Fuller films much of it at muted distance, observing his character’s largely silent interactions without intruding too closely, often letting the action unfold at the margins of the frame. Deliberately unemphatic in his visual observations, even as the mostly-fixed camera setups are clearly worked out quite carefully, the filmmaker operates under the principle that a few mute glimpses of inarticulate figures can suggest deep reservoirs of feeling—and then relies on the soundtrack to fill in the gaps. It nearly works. But despite the occasional associate depths suggested by the multi-layers of the audio mix and the evocative 16mm lenswork of DP William Garcia, the film finally feels too elliptical, too distant to suggest any inner life to its drifting characters. Fuller leaves plenty of room for the viewer to create his own meaning, but in the end, it’s not clear how much meaning the filmmaker has brought to the project himself.