Dinner parties are their own particular type of hell. They’re always planned with the best of intentions, usually friends getting together in celebration of something. A new job, an engagement, to mark the passing of time. Brooklyn 45’s dinner party is a celebration of the end of World War II and a reunion of childhood best friends who survived the war. However, the people they are now are so vastly different from the childhood versions of themselves.
Archie (Jeremy Holm) is on trial for being a war criminal, but he adamantly denies any wrongdoing. Marla (Anne Ramsay) spent the war years as a vicious interrogator, and her husband (Ron E. Rains), the only person at the dinner party who wasn’t a childhood friend, tries to pretend that Marla’s job was without violence. Also in attendance is Major DiFranco (Ezra Buzzington), who arrived at the party five hours early with a secret promise. It’s Clive (Larry Fessenden), a mourning widower, who changes the tone of the dinner party. He lost his wife six weeks ago and wants to host a séance with his friends. While the others write it off as a parlor trick, Clive has hope that the séance will give him closure. As one would expect, the séance brings up ghosts, metaphorical and physical, within this once tight-knit group of friends.
A single-setting film forces everyone involved in the filmmaking to stretch the limits of their creativity. By nature, it’s claustrophobic. There’s only so much space and potential within the confines of a room, but in the hands of a talented writer, the possibilities are endless. Luckily, Ted Geoghegan is one of those talented writers. Brooklyn 45 is more than a spooky séance or a popcorn horror flick. There’s an unnerving mystery at the heart of the film that is revealed at about a third of the way in. Just when the audience thinks they have an understanding of what this film will be, the small, insular world of Clive’s parlor room is inverted. Clues were laid out to foreshadow this turn of events, but they were done in a way that was easily explainable with the information the audience already had. It’s hard to talk about in such vague terms, but the element of surprise deserves to be maintained. Just know that Brooklyn 45 is not what you expect, and it’s all the better for that.
“It’s easy to create an enemy.” This statement comes from one of the characters, and revealing who said it would ruin some of the magic of the film. The sentiment, however, is essential to understanding what Brooklyn 45 wants to accomplish. There’s talk of America and the dream that was sold to so many immigrants. It’s a version of an America that never was and maybe never will be because of prejudice. For so long, America has been proclaimed a melting pot. A place for people, all people, to come to and experience a freedom like none they’ve never known. It’s simply not the reality that many have come to find when they arrive in America. Brooklyn 45 looks at American identity and how that’s weaponized during (and after) wartime. The film critiques the idea of blind patriotism and “following orders” from the perspective of Germans and Americans during World War II.
Brooklyn 45 feels purposefully contemporary. Writer-director Geoghegan masterfully blends the modern with the classic in terms of content and production. The questions of nationalism and xenophobia are, unfortunately, all too relevant, even though the events of the film take place 78 years in the past. The script could easily be turned into a radio drama the likes of which were at the height of popularity at the time of the film’s events. There’s a fun supernatural flair to the film, but it’s not a gore-heavy movie. The fear and dread are existential and personal. There’s no otherworldly demon trapped in the room with these friends, it’s simply themselves and the consequences of the choices they made and didn’t make. That is terror in its most unsettling sense because it’s real. The horrors of war are also real, and they keep repeating themselves. Just as the friends are stuck in this room, humanity feels doomed to repeat these horrors.
Brooklyn 45 needs to be on your radar. In a time when it feels like films are ballooning to long runtimes, despite not having enough story to justify the length, Brooklyn 45 fills every crack and crevice of its taut 92 minutes. The walls of this singular room grow to cover miles, speaking to much more than a seance gone wrong. Brooklyn 45 feels like it was conceptualized to be a Twilight Zone episode with just a little more blood and gore.