Be prepared to enter the nightmare world that exists between the shadows in writer/director Jeffery Husselman’s sinister feature Streetwalker. Ruby (Corissa Gabor) is a sex worker who fills her time between tricks watching monochrome sermons by late-night TV prophet Isaiah Russ (Nick Villaire). Ruby only has a few friends in this cold world: fellow sex worker Zoey (Ray Hansen) and nice-guy customer Roy (Keith Ortiz).
However, eerie things start to occur in the corners. One night, Duffy (George Weslyn), a regular who asks Ruby to use the same perfume his wife does in order to cover up the body fluid odor, pays extra for a night of hard drug sex that lands Ruby in the hospital. A culmination of ugly rituals occurs. Ruby becomes aware she has gotten the attention of an interdimensional being known as the Ring Leader (Jeffery Husselman). Without moving his lips, the Ring Leader whispers of all the visible things that really are not, as well as all the invisible things that definitely are. The Ring Leader and his followers do awful things, all the while telling Ruby that her place is with them.
There are a lot more hits than misses in Streetwalker. It has a terminally hip hybrid visual aesthetic of grindhouse blended with Nicholas Winding Refn. The faux print damage jives well with the light storms of drop-dead indigos and violets. Husselman’s appreciation of analog-era tech leads to what seems like a 1990s period piece. The forgotten world of black-and-white televisions and landlines, back when people had to watch things because nothing else was on, looms large.
The filmmaker also avoids the sexploitation avenues of the material, instead choosing to milk the seedy elements of sex work for horror. This is a wise path to take in this startling new post-exploitation world. That doesn’t mean the movie keeps its britches on, but the nudity is used for unease and torture instead of poking your pelvic furnace. By establishing a darkness-filled landscape that then has additional horrors appear, Husselman double-meats his dread sandwich without ever having boring, non-horror scenes. It starts creepy and ends horrifically.
“The Ring Leader and his followers do awful things, all the while telling Ruby that her place is with them.”
Despite all the horror coursing through its design, the movie plays more like a gritty Boulevard drama, even when the cross-dimensional elements appear. This freshens things up nicely. Streetwalker goes in the exact direction I was hoping the new Hellraiser would travel down.
Unfortunately, I am not crazy about the handheld camera. Nope. If we are dressing up grindhouse, then we must understand that period rarely saw handheld outside of news footage. It’s not a deal breaker, but it gets tiresome. But the main issue is Husselman’s performance as the top nemesis. He resembles Coffin Joe with makeup and ears like Spider-Man villain The White Rabbit. Visually, the baddie is not as unnerving as he needs to be.
When the Ring Leader speaks, his lips don’t move. It is a lot like the werewolf-looking devil not moving his lips in the ill-fated Spawn. The villain stands and grins while his dialogue plays over the soundtrack. It looks lazy in the middle of a lot of obvious hard work on the filmmaker’s part. Some kind of facial covering or one of those red-hot animal masks would have corrected this instantly. Once again, not a deal breaker, but definitely a missed opportunity for an additional level of ferocity.
None of this should dissuade you from checking out Streetwalker. The smart move of using a gritty drama format to inject doses of hard horror pays off. And it looks gorgeous, hyper-stylized, and raw at the same time. This horror offering shows why the indie product just gets you higher sometimes. Those looking for a next-level genre offering will do well with this.