Bill is a troubled writer who has developed a debilitating case of insomnia. After weeks of sleep deprivation, Bill begins to become increasingly unhinged until paranoia and hallucinations alter his reality. His fear, temper and anger take over until he can no longer tell what is real and what is in his mind. As his world crumbles, Bill becomes more and more violent leading to bloodshed and terror.
As described by its lead actor, Bill Oberst, Jr., Coyote from director Trevor Juenger is a micro-budgeted, bizarre, artsy, home-grown independent feature. Oberst’s performance as “Bill” is intense and challenging, a disturbing portrayal of an unhinged mind. The character, his imaginations and his actions are difficult to watch at times. The film benefits greatly from Oberst’s complete immersion into the role. It’s a chilling performance that will haunt nightmares. Juenger gets the most out of his star, focusing on only this character for almost the entirety of the film. He never glorifies Bill nor flinches from showing his dark side and vulnerability. Juenger’s camera embraces Oberst entirely, completely, intimately, imprinting every nuance and tick into every frame, every pixel. The story itself challenges its audience, earning Oberst’s description of artsy honestly and sincerely. It is often difficult to tell what is supposed to be real and what is part of the narrative. And that is part of the point. The film is not from Bill’s point of view, but it certainly heavily colored by it.
The story for Coyote works hard to blur the lines of reality. The result is a dark, visualized, cinematic poem of insanity and madness. It is very much like a celluloid acid trip. The film begins with Bill attempting to write a hand-written letter to his mother with great difficulty. He screws up a sentence. He rips the paper on accident. The pencil led breaks. And the descent into darkness continues as he pulls out an old typewriter, no longer writing the letter as himself but as an imaginary secretary scribing on his behalf. The tone is set. The film shows Bill as a loner who has trouble connecting with others but still manages to eek out a friendship with a bigoted co-worker or befriend a broken, aged woman he meets on the job. But those encounters are short lived, unhealthy and morose. Intense, seriously intense.
By the time Bill Oberst, Jr. utters “I used to be a worm. Mindlessly eating dirt with my worm mouth. And, then, for no reason at all, I evolved,” the film has established that the character of Bill is unhinged and dangerous. He has already been visited by strange thumb sucking phantoms of his imagination and envisioned himself as an alien. He is loosing touch with reality with every passing second. Oberst takes the role into dark and uncomfortable places. Insanity is never pretty and Coyote’s lead may be show the insanity as ugly as it gets. Oberst makes the madness palpable, the screen is thick with uncertainty. Bill Oberst, Jr. is known for this kind of role, this kind of intensity, and, with Coyote, the actor adds another film to his ever growing Filmography to hammer that point home. The Emmy Award winner (Take This Lollipop) has clocked in an amazing 100+ acting credits since 2007. His performance in Coyote is an impressive addition to his repertoire.
Trevor Juenger promises to be a dangerous filmmaker, one who leaves his audience unsure of where he will take them. The film feels very personal and an extension of the director’s passion for storytelling and cinema. In the rawest of independent film tradition, he approaches his subject as paint on a canvas, expressing the character’s descent into the inevitable darkness with images, voice over dialog and, at times, loosely strung together series of events. The film is all about mood, about perception and about anger, perhaps. Juenger creates a cast of characters where no one is pleasant or admirable, but it is unclear if this is how they truly are or how only Bill perceives them. At one point, Juenger creatively shows a scene twice, back to back, with Bill’s dialog drastically altered while the accompanying dialog and end result remains the same. With this, the director obscures the truth, leaving the audience unsure and off balance. Nothing can be taken for granted and the film demands the viewer’s attention.
“The balance of right and wrong in this world is all off.” Coyote is not going to be for every one. In a time where creativity is not always rewarded and theaters are packed with remakes, sequels and retreads, this type of film can be an unattractive offer. But it should not be; it deserves notice, if not for the raw creativity, for the intense, ballsy performance from its star, Bill Oberst, Jr. The lead character’s mental collapse is excruciating to watch at times, sickening; not because of blood, violence or gore, but due to the stark, depressing delivery from Oberst. The script does not offer many surprises with Bill traveling a path that can only have one outcome, but the film is not that story. It is about the character offering a glimpse into his unraveling psyche. The film leaves the viewer trapped in Bill’s waking nightmare, unable to escape Bill’s doomed future as much as the lead character himself.
“I’m here. You go away, but I am always here. Trapped in this very moment.”
4 out of 5