Fear films come in all sorts of shades: slasher, stalker, hillbilly’s breakfast, Japanese ghost story. Finally, we have one about credit-card debt. (Oh, you pay your bills on time? No debt at all? Get outta my face.) Using techniques hardly more elevated than those in a January horror flick, Maxed Out builds an impressive head of menace in its extreme depiction of America’s predatory lending practices. Mothers weep after their college kids commit suicide over Visa abuse. Reptilian collection agents happily compare themselves to “pirates...pushing you out on the plank.” Ministers insist on contributions from their destitute flock. Republicans push through bankruptcy legislation written by MBNA.
Truthfully, the situation isn’t much exaggerated. Director James D. Scurlock actually gains more traction in his documentary’s more sedate moments, such as the revelation that the government spends more money on bank interest than on defense and education combined. And while it’s always fun to sit in on a sumptuous Vegas lunch with the ever-saucy Robin Leach—himself a cognizant exploiter of our love of things we can’t afford—the documentary has a quiet voice of sanity in Harvard economics professor Elizabeth Warren, who sees the pattern approaching an endgame of zero worth. Do not see this film if you worry about money. (Opens Fri; Cinema Village.)—Joshua Rothkopf