"I was so sad when Satyajit Ray died." Harper (Bridey Elliot) talks a lot of shit in Fort Tilden, but this casually racist and clueless statement spoken to an Indian cab driver might be her pièce de résistance. She's one of two obnoxious 25-year-old Brooklyn hipsters at the center of Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rodgers' hilariously bleak comedy of bad judgment. The other is a faux do-gooder named Allie (Clare McNulty) who's set to join the Peace Corps and be stationed in Liberia, coined "the worst place in the world" by more than one douchey conversationalist.
Fort Tilden follows these two gossip girls as they spend a lazy summer day trekking from the safe confines of Williamsburg out to the Rockaways to meet two men for a beach rendezvous. With no car or money, Harper and Allie decide to ride their bikes. This erroneous decision allows for a leisurely tour of various diverse neighborhoods and ample time to watch these young women self-destruct under the pressure of uncertainty.
The narrative wants to go in a single direction, but Harper's short attention span and Allie's thunderous whining won't let it. Interruptions and mishaps propel the characters down one tangential path after the next, each defined by an overwhelming feeling of stagnation. A dip into a convenience store to buy iced coffee is hilariously self-defeating. Later, while shopping at a boutique to buy clothes they don't need, the two statically watch a teenage boy steal their unlocked bike without moving an inch. Considering their suffocating lethargy, playwright Samuel Beckett would have loved these girls.
"Experts at exit strategies," as one wise and handsome drug dealer coins them, Harper and Allie are grotesque emblems for their generation of hard bodies and soft discipline. While the filmmakers don't judge their characters, whose actions range from harmlessly annoying to reprehensible, they certainty take them to task. The seemingly endless day foreshadows a lifetime of similar temporal purgatories, a fact that turns disturbingly clear as the film progresses.
If Fort Tilden weren't so sunny and bloodless it might be mistaken for a horror film. Still, it's questionable whether any of these characters (and pets) actually survive. Moments of aching discomfort and anxiety abound, specifically in a beachside phone conversation Allie has with her aggressive Peace Corps placement officer, and the aforementioned interaction between Harper and the cab driver that takes a combustible turn.
When Harper and Allie finally make it to their destination, meandering through forested broken ruins and desolate beaches, they find only emptiness. The filmmakers let these moments linger to profound effect, with the characters' rambling resentment providing the only aural chatter to break up the deafening silence. It feels like the ending to a modern Michelangelo Antonioni art film, except the Italian master might have found more hope in such a despairing landscape.
The millennials aren't just "fucked," as one grumpy passerby says; these girls are slowly disappearing, the greatest and most common sin in the see-first Internet age. Even worse, their delusion is revealed to be all encompassing. "I don't know what teenagers look like anymore," says Harper, after realizing her man-crush hasn't yet graduated from high school. How many other judgments have been this miscalculated?
Fort Tilden, which opens Friday, Sept. 11, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park, seamlessly transitions from dark comedy to tragedy in the final moments, proving itself an ambitious and daring film of the moment. Harper and Allie are thematically conjoined twins who can't escape each other's disdain for risk-taking and honest expression. Watching and bickering from the sidelines has always been an easy escape route for the unmotivated youth. Except nowadays this "phase" is becoming more of a life choice, metastasizing into adulthood and permanently warping what it means to grow up.