Todd Solondz is US indie cinema’s master misanthropist, a writer-director who paints hell as the New Jersey suburbs, with an annexe in Florida for the retired. We’ve had the squirmy likes of ‘Happiness’ and ‘Palindromes’, but Solondz’s latest, ‘Dark Horse’, is similar to his first film, ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’ (1995), in the way it piles cruelties on one misguided character. That’s Abe (Jordan Gelber), an overgrown, under-developed 35-year-old man who still lives with his parents (Mia Farrow, Christopher Walken) in their bungalow and works in his dad’s office. Abe drives a yellow Hummer, orders ThunderCats toys from the internet and believes himself to be a ‘dark horse’, even though everyone else can see – and, yes, this is cruel – he’s a loser. He’s not even likeable: he insists to his mother that she cough up the $845 debt she’s accrued by losing to him at backgammon.
Solondz hands Abe a get-out-of-hell card in the form of Miranda (Selma Blair), a depressed woman who agrees to marry him. But her ex is still around and she may have given Abe a STD. On top of all this, his dad sacks him (Walken delivers a seething deadpan act that’s quite brilliant). The situation is delicious and the characters are to be viewed from behind the sofa, but Solondz loses sight of his story in the final act when he flits between this grim, if hilarious, reality and an extended fantasy sequence. And just when you think he’s going to rescue Abe from the inferno, Solondz does what he knows best: pushes him back into the flames.