Who owns the pain or guilt in the midst of tragedy?
Michael Shannon’s directorial debut, “Eric LaRue,” beautifully explains how the son’s sins impact both the father AND mother in her 2002 adaptation of Brett Neveu’s play of the same name. Judy Greer and Alexander Skarsgård play two parents whose teenage son – unseen until the film’s final moments – killed three classmates in a school shooting, and the duo must rebuild their small community in the wake of the violence.
Greer’s Janice wonders aimlessly how guilty she is of her serial killer son’s actions, while her husband finds solace in joining a new church and becoming Very close friend of his fellow congregation member and HR executive, played by a perfectly distraught Alison Pill. Their entire on-screen suburban community is built on the worldliness of conformism, complete with Janice’s job at a big box retailer adjacent to the Big Lots and her husband’s penchant for drinking beers alone at Sizzlin’ Sallies.
Janice is pressured at all times, even by her boss, to attend a therapy session with the three mothers of the deceased boys that Janice’s son Eric killed. While Janice even avoids visiting Eric in prison, she’s torn between cleaning up her room and dealing with the role of faith and religion. Is she to blame for her son’s actions? And if not, who is she?
Greer is a force on screen, opposite a barely recognizable Skarsgård, fully delving into a performance that should draw comparisons to a chameleonic cosplay of Jeff from “Yellowjackets” (in the best possible way). Both characters seek forgiveness from each other as parents and from the community at large.
Janice asks her husband, her co-workers, and even the public what it “should feel” as a mother to a monster. Her neglect is balanced by something more deeply rooted, the knowledge that Eric was doomed even as a child. While Eric later begs Mother to make sure she tells her friends about her remorse, Janice can’t prove anything. You lived best within the confines of Shannon’s film, even if that ultimately means many moments of profound unease.
“Eric LaRue” also deftly balances moments of dark comedy thanks to the absurdity of the circumstances that unfold after an unthinkable tragedy. Neveu, a playwright and frequent collaborator of Shannon, has adapted his play for the big screen, and Shannon’s sensitive direction makes “Eric LaRue” a remarkable and haunting film, with the best performance of Greer’s career.
“Eric LaRue” premiered at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.