The opening title card of “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” falls on it’s title character (Clayne Crawford) like a ton of bricks with the sounds of the forest howling around him before the screen cuts to black. He may be a hunter, but filmed at a remove, he’s clearly the one feeling as if he’s the prey, wildly unprepared for what nature has in store for him. While this may or may not be true in a larger sense, he’s quite practically overmatched by the prospect of handling a firearm and bringing home some venison for his family to subsist on, a reason why he’s spending the day off from his work as an insurance salesman in the small town of Pell City practicing his hunting skills, much to the chagrin of his wife Tess (Jordana Brewster, making the most of limited screen time), who’d rather he stay home. As he recites to himself in the bathroom mirror, “Hell is coming for breakfast” before the crack of dawn to build up his confidence, you know that option is not on the table.
After the intensity of their previous collaboration “The Killing of Two Lovers” charting the aftermath of a painful separation, Crawford and writer/director Robert Machoian is both somehow an even lighter and darker affair, as if one of Jody Hill’s satires of toxic masculinity with Danny McBride were directed with the lyricism and earnestness of their college classmate David Gordon Green in his “All the Real Girls” days. It’s built around a single twist of fate, but it’s a killer one as Joe borrows his friend’s truck to drive onto the nature reserve they’ve previously hunted on together, with Joe insisting he go solo this time when he has it in his head that he needs to be a hunter gatherer to provide for his family in anticipation of a potential apocalyptic event, stocking up enough meat to last them in their fridge. (As someone reminds, “if the power grid is out, what electricity will there be to keep the refrigerators on?”)
Both the character and the film start off strong as Joe leaves a mustache on for the day of hunting ahead and the natural domestic patter that’s become a real specialty of Machoian’s with Tess begging him to shave it off is immediately endearing, and before the unexpected can happen to Joe, it occurs first for the audience as “The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” turns into a one-man show as he drifts further away from his family and deeper into the woods. Crawford impressively answers the call of a suburbanite desperate to prove to himself he can live off the land, never to be mocked but walking a fine line of appearing self-serious, silly and just plain sad as he gets frustrated with the lack of deer to shoot at and starts to entertain himself.
Playing pretend baseball and singing “I Am the Mustache Man” at the top of his lungs reveal his true passions while he is stuck feeling as if he’s impersonating a hunter is a particularly delicious irony, and as far as Joe may be in his own head, Crawford’s performance and Machoian’s evocative use of sound, once again teaming with “Two Lovers” sound designer Peter Albrechtsen to create sense memories of what Joe’s thinking at any given time, pushes a viewer even deeper into his psyche, which turns out to be a far more dangerous place than the world he sees himself in.
“The Integrity of Joseph Chambers” will screen again at Tribeca at the Village East on June 13th at 9:45 pm and June 17th at 5 pm. It will also be available to stream from June 11th at 6 pm through the end of the festival on June 19th.