Fantastic Fest 2023 Review: A Couple Finds Clarity in a Real Mess in Chris Skotchdopole’s Deliciously Devious “Crumb Catcher”

“I can’t believe my mother talked me into this wedding,” Leah (Ella Rae Peck) says, driving the unhappiest “Just Married” car you’ve ever seen in “Crumb Catcher.” Her new husband Shane (Rigo Garay) says they should’ve just eloped, with director Chris Skotchdopole showing little of their nuptials, but enough of their wedding photo shoot to know it did not go well as the photographer snaps pictures that make it seem as if they were confronted by a firing squad, unaware of what direction fire is coming from when he peppers them with questions about how they met while Leah’s mom swings by to remind that for all the presents they receive, she’s been making a list of the thank you notes they’ll have to write.

There’s nothing romantic about the occasion and – it turns out – not so much about Leah and Shane’s relationship in general when as much as he may describe their meet cute in rosy terms, it becomes obvious that theirs is a marriage of convenience as much as anything else when they met at a company party and she works for a publisher and he’s an author, needing her help as much as boosting her career prospects when he’s on the cusp of a cultural breakthrough with his debut novel. The fact that their honeymoon is held at the executive editor’s woodsy retreat in upstate New York may seem to be a generous gift at first, but an increasingly apparent reflection of what the union is actually all about.

It isn’t just their work that follows them home when the shaky foundation for their new life together is further challenged by the creepy appearance at the front door of their hideaway of John Spinelli (John Speredakos), a sleazy caterer from their wedding they thought they left in the rear view of not for their misplaced wedding cake. It is here where the gloriously delirious camerawork of cinematographer Adam Carboni starts to take over as Leah and Shane have to wonder what the hell is going on, unable to stop John from letting himself in and increasingly feeling prohibited from kicking him out when it seems like he might have some dirt on them. There’s at least one dumb waiter on display, if not two when Carboni puts the camera on a tilt-a-whirl when listening to Spinelli’s pitch about an invention that he hopes the two will consider funding or at least give him some healthy feedback on over dinner, and the prospects of either the product or the captive couple going anywhere is next to nil.

The same can’t be said of Skotchdopole in his feature debut, showing real verve in the driver’s seat well before the film culminates in a wild white knuckle car chase. Although “Crumb Catcher” may be guilty of exhausting ways to keep Leah and Shane from deciding that they’d rather face the music than their tiresome guest for a second longer, the script from Skotchdopole, Garay and genre legend Larry Fessenden is savvy enough in its set up to create a fascinating collection of mitigating circumstances that it never dares to spell out when neither Leah or Shane would cop to them as their own rules of engagement, but between their professional/personal entanglements and the socioeconomic backgrounds that make them an ideal partnership in a woke world, the film has provocative ideas about modern romance and personal worth that carry it through the patches where it starts to strain plausibility and makes it feel all too real. While one may wonder how much love there actually is between the newlyweds in “Crumb Catcher,” there’s plenty to fall head over heels for in the satisfying thriller.

“Crumb Catcher” will screen again at Fantastic Fest on September 28th at 5:20 pm at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar 5.

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