A man trapped in his own personal hell, working at an insurance company in the middle of nowhere, with a creepy boss, a co-worker who spends most of his time in the company’s bathroom, a spurned lover who works across the way and a beggar who will do anything for $50. And I mean anything. And that’s the basic idea behind Emily Wilson’s short film Picnic Table, a 26 minute depiction of an awkward young man and trying to fit into ‘normal’ society.
Roe (our ‘hero’, played by Felix Hagen) has just started his first day at his new job at a sketchy looking insurance agency. His boss Lou (Jeremy X Halpern) is a bit of a prick, telling Roe he has a weird name so he should always answer the phone in a specific way so the caller understands him better. Henry (Chris O’Coin) is another worker at the agency, but we’re introduced to him via conversation first, and then with a ten dollar bill sliding under the bathroom door for Roe to buy him a #2 at the sandwich shop. Creepily wandering the parking lot is Ronnie (Dan Parilis), a vagrant who, as mentioned earlier, will do about anything for Ulysses S. Grant.
There’s an impending dread that starts to brew from the beginning of the film up until the final frame, and as it goes along my stomach was churning. There’s nothing I love more than a film to make me feel a sense of unease and be well made while doing so makes that much more important in my eyes. Wilson has crafted a film here that feels as if it’s from the school of Alexandre Rockwell but with the demented sense of humor that tends to bring up thoughts of Waters, Maddin or the Kuchar Brothers. Taking real life and twisting it ever so and showcasing the darker side of the human psyche.
Hagen as Roe gives us someone we can relate to, feeling lost in his life, a possibly endless hell he has to live in. Is it all in his head or do these people really act like this? When Ronnie speaks to Roe about some of the dirt he has on people around that shopping center, why he wiped feces all over the window of the insurance agency (we see it being cleaned in the beginning) and that he is willing to even kill for a small amount of money. That’s when the film starts to go into creep overdrive, where Roe just wants to get away from that picnic table and escape from everything, at least for the time being. He has to lie to Ronnie that he doesn’t work around there. So when he’s noticed by the end of the film, stomachs will be in knots and we don’t know where it’s going to go from there.
Living in New York City, I’ve felt weirdness from random people who I’ve met in my life, be it a vagrant or a friend of a friend at a party. There’s nothing more that you want to do is exit stage left, but finding a way out is sometimes harder than rocket science. Also, we’re never truly aware of how many days Roe has worked at this job, clothes are changed, but who’s to say? An endless nightmare, something that gives any entertainment a surreal quality. A smaller scale version of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, if you will.
Short films are a tricky thing to perfect. You have a limited amount of time to show the world what you want while making it interesting and making us wish there was more after the film has ended. At least that’s what I’ve always felt. Emily Wilson’s Picnic Table is a film that does just that, wishing I could see just a few minutes more and see what happens to Roe. Do we want to see that? I’m a glutton for punishment and can’t help but see someone go to trials and then hope they triumph at the end. Or at least wish for it like Roe does.