MVD Marquee Collection: Bryan Loves You (2008) - Reviewed

Images Courtesy of MVD Visual
You probably haven’t heard the name Seth Landau before.  But after director his second feature, the 2022 comedy film Take Out, and compounded with the MVD Marquee Collection’s search for forgotten films of the mid-2000s, there’s now a renewal of interest in the star-studded cult directorial debut/confessional Bryan Loves You.  Coming out on the cusp of such digital video fare shot in standard definition as David Lynch’s Inland Empire, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later or Jordan Melamed’s Manic, the film falls into the found-footage thriller subgenre of gritty lo-fi pixelated video as a cinema verite aesthetic with a patina of faux realism underpinning everything.  The result is a film that doesn’t always work as a genre entry but is nevertheless an interesting experiment in do-it-yourself DV filmmaking.  Think of it as a dress rehearsal of sorts to Steven Soderbergh’s iPhone movie Unsane which it shares the most with thematically.

Around the 1990s, 32-year-old professional therapist Jonathan (actor/producer/writer/director Seth Landau) and his fellow female videographers begin to suspect their small Arizonian community is gradually being assimilated by a murderous religious extremist cult simply known as the “Followers of Bryan”, a mysterious leader no one claims to have actually seen.  Soon Jonathan and crew start filming around their deserted small town where they begin noticing young students donning white masks with black circles blocking out the eyes and a black x across the face banding together in a robot-like collective.  Then Jonathan’s colleagues begin acting strangely and it doesn’t take long for the young therapist (and us) to realize he is walking into a trap that threatens his very existence. 

Preempted by a notable “Carl Lemmle” inspired warning from Candyman actor Tony Todd before such names including but not limited to George Wendt, Daniel Roebuck and Lloyd Kaufman, Bryan Loves You is another one of those microbudget rough and ragged digital found footage indies with a lot of big names but not a lot in the way of engagement or scares.  Loosely based on realisateur Seth Landau’s own experiences being institutionalized as a child, this homegrown dose of 2000s DV filmmaking never really comes close to being akin to A Clockwork Orange, instead leaning more towards elements of folk horror with a pagan cult gradually sinking its claws into an unsuspecting community.  The result is a “thriller” that never really gets off the ground despite locking its hero up and placing him in increasingly threatening situations.  For a movie with this cast, aesthete and premise the finished product is somewhat stillborn.
Either for legal reasons or for faux authenticity, all the last names and addresses mentioned are bleeped out and sometimes you’ll hear characters talking and their dialogue cuts in and out rather sloppily.  The sound design and music by P. Daniel Newman is mostly lofi bass rumblings and some occasional industrial abrasions but the idea here that we’re seeing “security cameras” that somehow or another cut in and out of closeups of the actors lensed by Jayson Crothers is a bit of a suspension of disbelief on the viewer’s part.  It is also worth noting the film’s producer/director/leading actor Seth Landau doesn’t have a whole lot of screen presence so by the time things begin to turn on the film’s hapless protagonist, we’re not emotionally invested. 

Released straight to video through Anchor Bay before eventually (and inexplicably) resurfacing on a remastered MVD Marquee Collection blu-ray, Bryan Loves You is a grimy amateurish little digital video flick that unfortunately never really gets off the ground.  Despite the vastness and paranoia of the premise, as this DV “scare fest” unspooled it was hard not to come away feeling a little fatigued by the mostly soporific exercise in psychological horror.  Somewhere in Bryan Loves You is an interesting and unique digital video thriller but as it currently stands as a whole the film is underwhelming and unfortunately kind of aggravating.  For a better example of this kind of movie done right, seek out Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane instead.

--Andrew Kotwicki