RONDO is the second feature from writer/director Drew Barnhardt. Ethically I need to fully disclose and disclaim that he’s a reader of this websight and we’ve corresponded off and on for many years, which is why I plugged but didn’t officially review his 2009 no-budget slasher/thriller MURDER LOVES KILLERS TOO. So take it with whatever amount of salt you feel is necessary, but I truly believe movie #2, which was released on disc by Artsploitation Films earlier in the summer, is distinctive. It has the feel of the style of pulp novels I love, where a (in this case) somewhat blank character falls into some seedy business and part of the thrill is having no idea what direction it’s going or even what structure the story’s gonna take.

The plot concerns Paul (Luke Sorge), a combat veteran living with his protective younger sister Jill (Brenna Otts) after being dishonorably discharged for what we’re told was an “of course, mysterious” shooting incident. Jill tells him he can’t have alcohol or guns in the house, but he’s such a mess she ends up cradling him and pouring whiskey in his mouth like she’s bottle-feeding a baby. She sends him to an addiction doctor someone recommended to her, but doesn’t realize he’s going to talk to a weirdo who will give him a big monologue about the local fetish community and then “prescribe” for him to show up at an apartment in a highrise downtown to fuck some rich creep’s wife in front of him.

There are major narrative shifts that I don’t want to give away, but I’ll tell you how it starts. When he goes to that apartment, a guy named Lurdell (Reggie De Morton, DEATH CHASE, The Bold and the Beautiful) gives him and two other “gentlemen” a long, matter-of-fact employee orientation type speech about all of the ground rules and the horrible things they’re supposed to do in this “job of work for which we have been tasked” to provide “a very specific brand of good time” for his client Mr. Tim (Kevin Sean Ryan, STAR RAIDERS: THE ADVENTURES OF SABER RAINE). Mrs. Tim (Iva Nora) stands there for the whole speech and Lurdell describes her as “a willing and able co-conspirator,” but she doesn’t look too happy about it.

The gross, creepy weirdness is made deeply, darkly humorous by everyone’s refusal to acknowledge the gross, creepy weirdness of it. The three recruits listen to the whole thing like it’s normal. One guy looks bored. The other wears latex gloves and clutches some kind of case to his chest, and we never learn what that’s all about.

At the end of the speech Lurdell says, “And no weird stuff.” Maybe the biggest laugh for me.

There’s a scene where Paul has to endure awkward “waiting for their turn to fuck the guy’s wife” small talk with the bored asshole in the windbreaker, who asks “First time?” and complains “Too many rules and shit, you know? I feel like I’m back in school.”

I definitely can’t describe the job as “too good to be true,” but it’s much different and worse than what they’re being told, and Paul falls deep into a dangerous murder conspiracy. And we get to better know Jill as well as their father (Michael Vasicek, RAGE OF THE MUMMY), who’s also an alcoholic veteran.

Our protagonists are basically regular people who, when pushed, can turn into supremely capable ones determined to perform their required narrative task (solve a mystery, get revenge). Or at least try. But the antagonists are kind of more interesting – unpredictable because we’re not sure at first what they’re up to, their motives are more prurient and their behavior is harder to relate to. I really like the inappropriate calmness of Lurdell and his right hand man DeShawn (Jazz Copeland, RYDE OR DIE), a big guy who weirdly chews while chasing people and whose job largely consists of awkwardly crouching down to turn on the stereo when directed. But I think the MVP is Cassie (Gena Shaw, “Glory of Love” episode of Cobra Kai), who’s a little more manic and joyfully wicked.

I feel I should warn that because these people are total sickos whose business involves fetish stuff, there’s lots of graphic description and threats (and a little depiction) of degrading sex acts and sexual violence. But it’s played in an absurdly casual manner that’s hard to imagine someone finding titillating. For me it’s very effective and disturbing. I felt dirty, but never wanted to fast forward like in I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE.

The DVD cover shows nylons, high heels, bullet shells dropping into a glass of whiskey – an implication of noir or pulp or ’70s sleaze, all of which are present. But at no point does this seem like one of those retro-grindhouse things low budget filmatists have been trying to sell for a decade or more. I feel like there’s a bit of Elmore Leonard in its depiction of a low rent criminal underground inhabited by cruel but not necessarily smart people. And Like Barnhardt’s first film it has stalking-and-chasing-through-a-house sequences and heavy influence from Brian DePalma and (believe it or not) BARRY LYNDON. That’s an unusual mix, not following the existing templates. It doesn’t feel like anything anybody else is trying to do.

Though a legit crime story and not a comedy, it’s thoroughly drenched in a dry humor I love. That comes through not only in the odd performances and turns of phrase, but through unorthodox stylistic choices like the use of a third person omniscient narrator (Steve Van Beckum). He’s a very formal narrator, not a hard boiled one, who helps move quickly through the parts of the story we don’t need to dwell on, like when Paul tries calling the police for help and they don’t do anything. “Although, to Paul’s credit,” the narrator adds, “the officer said it was the best call they had received in many weeks.”

In the beginning the narrator summarizes a bunch of conversations we never hear, and Paul sits through an entire therapy session without ever opening his mouth, so I assumed we’d never hear him talk. In the first fifteen minutes he only speaks two words, separately: “password,” and later “Rondo,” which is the password. But when it comes time to explain to Jill what he thinks is going on, he has no problem talking. Later, there’s a long stretch where we don’t hear Jill speak, we only watch her face.

I feel like the finale involving (SPOILER) a woman in lingerie confidently gunning down a bunch of bad people is much more on the nose about its sleaziness than the rest of the movie. It’s kind of like a really well done Action Girls sequence, which feels like a slight let down to me. On the other hand, it’s about five minutes straight of slo-mo squib explosions, and you don’t see that every day. Not these days.

RONDO was made in Denver, Colorado, presumably with the type of filmmaking that involves digging up every last connection or favor available, trying to scrape together something that’s not quite Hollywood, but better than home made. As in MURDER LOVES KILLERS TOO, Barnhardt has pulled off more style than you’d think his miniscule budget would allow. I’m sure he’d prefer something less clean and digital looking, but he and cinematographer John Bourbonais imply something more cinematic with their angles and controlled camera moves. I was especially impressed by the overhead shot simultaneously covering events on a 12th floor balcony, a lower balcony, and the street below.

Fuck handheld. Long live cranes.

I know Barnhardt would like to find the funding for something kinda like this but with a little more production value behind it. I hope he does, because it’s clear he could do a great job. But I’m thankful he didn’t let the lack of such an opportunity stop him from making RONDO. I guess it would be weird to call making a movie like this “doing God’s work,” but it’s doing somebody’s.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 22nd, 2019 at 5:24 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

23 Responses to “Rondo”

  1. Is this what Mr M was talking about? Here is the litmus test question, is this movie in anyway a love letter to any particular genre?

  2. I’ve seen most of the movies Drew has seen (except BARRY LYNDON because life is too short) and this movie doesn’t feel like any one of them. There are elements of classic pulp and 80s sleaze and De Palma and Hitchcock and Tarantino, but it doesn’t attempt anything as crass as homage. It’s closer to what Cosmatos did with MANDY: You might recognize some of these ingredients but the stew doesn’t taste like any of them. It’s an odd beast—so shaggy in its storytelling, so deadpan absurd in its tone, yet so precise in its filmmaking—that I could spot influences in its parts but there’s little I could compare the whole to. There’s every chance its offbeat vibe won’t connect with many viewers but the fact that it’s very much following its own weird bliss and not following any particular genre template or do some post-ironic so-bad-its-good thing was the main appeal for me. Drew means this shit. There’s a confidence to the filmmaking that makes you want to follow the film down some strange pathways. As I’ve mentioned before, Drew and I are internet friends but that doesn’t stop me from digging his style. He makes the kind of weirdly personal and personally weird little genre gems I would love to see more of. Love it or hate it, there’s nothing anonymous about his work.

  3. Yeah, Sternshein, I don’t write love letters. More like ransom notes. With a poison pen. But really, since Majestyk went with the stew analogy, I’ll say that Rondo is kind of like a gumbo of influences which, to me, seemed perfectly natural. I just happen to like my gumbo spicy. I don’t try to be weird or hip, (and I sure as hell don’t try to be ‘so bad it’s good’ or other cynical bids to cool. [If you don’t like a scene or scenes, it’s because I’m a shitty filmmaker, not because I was trying to make something ironically bad]). Also, I’ve read that you’re in Denver. So, if you check this flick out you might recognize the locations. So, uh, I guess there’s that.

  4. As a Denver native, I’ve always thought the Denver/Front Range/Rocky Mountain region would be a great place to shoot movies, but I’ve never seen a film take place there. So many interesting locations, both architectural and geographical. I’ll have to track down a copy of this.

  5. For some reason I couldn’t find RONDO in Amazon’s search engine no matter what I tried. I honestly wondered if they had banned it for some reason. But I eventually figured out through Google that they indeed have it and I included the link above.

  6. That’s strange. I found it okay. Did you use the app? Sometimes the Amazon app is weirdly unreliable.

  7. Just using the search engine on the websight. “Rondo” doesn’t bring it up. “Rondo Drew Barnhardt” brings up MURDER LOVES KILLERS TOO as the fourth entry, but no RONDO. Clicking on that, then on Drew’s name does bring up RONDO, but I could’ve sworn it didn’t when I was trying to make the link.

  8. It came up right away for me when I searched for “rondo” in the Movies & TV category.

    Hey, Drew: Is it too late to add THE MOVIE JEFF BEZOS DOESN’T WANT YOU TO SEE! to the top of the DVD cover?

  9. I don’t know, Mr. M, I was thinking “God’s work” – Outlaw Vern.

    As far as Amazon, I tried typing in Rondo into their general search and it didn’t come up for many pages, but when I refined it to search in ‘Movies & TV’ it came right up. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised; anything that makes this little movie difficult to see has pretty much been the order of the day. I’m sure some would say that’s probably for the best. As for the rest of us sickos, I guess we’re stuck having to look harder.

  10. Cool Drew, I’m going to watch it. Looking forward to it.

  11. Thanks Sternshein, I hope you check it out. And I’m not just paying lip service here, I genuinely appreciate someone taking the chance on a low budget indie with their valuable time. This leap of faith is not at all lost on me. So, thank you. I hope you get some sick chuckles.

    And, REDACTED- I agree. My high school movies could play like a perverse travelogue where I drug (and maybe drugged) my high school friends (who I forced into being actors) to various wonderful landmarks, architectural curiosities and eye catching locations across Denver. However, Rondo, I should warn, is pretty much restricted to very few locations. Such is the reality when you have enough money to shoot with a proper crew, yet not enough to move all over the city. Don’t hold it against me, I still know what Denver’s got. Go Nuggets.

  12. Drew, are you still in Denver or did you move? I just moved here and I’m surprised at the rather robust film community is here.

  13. Yes Stern, I’m still here. I would never go so far as to say that Denver is a good place for filmmaking- at least not for low-budget stuff. They made it difficult, which is why much of this movie was made in a run-and-gun, no permits, ‘fuck y’all’ fashion. (If I was a bigger budget, maybe they would’ve been more accommodating). But, it’s my hometown and I love it. I did my time (and more) in El Lay and such, and now I’m old enough to want to do my own kind of movies, on my own terms and in my own city. It’s a struggle, but, hey, so is everything.

  14. I was just saying that I moved from Chicago and assumed movies weren’t a thing here but we have the most Alamos so that’s something. I am looking forward to the Denver Horror Film Festival next year. If you don’t mind I’d love to connect with you through a social media if possible. Help support your efforts.

  15. Oh, My bad Stern, I was just relating the production frustrations… But you’re totally right: Denver is pretty cool when it comes to movies and it has been getting better and better year by year. And yes, hook up with me on the social medias (I’m not on twitter, but you can find me on facebook or some shit like that).

  16. Crushinator Jones

    August 27th, 2019 at 10:39 am

    Drew, what’s the best way to watch this so that you get the most money?

  17. Ha, thanks Crush, that’s a wonderful question. My guess is that any platform that doesn’t involve physical product (dvd). I maybe, might get a cent or two out of. So, I guess that means Amazon prime, vimeo, etc. Anything where there isn’t packaging. That would be my best guess because, honestly, at this point I really don’t know for certain.

  18. …Or else, you could wire me 100 grand and I’ll send you a dvd. That would work out well for me.

  19. If it’s not too forward or crass, I’ll post the film’s website here (which has links to Amazon):


    To echo Drew, this is low budget thrills from the heart, so thank you for taking the time Vern.

  20. Thanks you guys. I hope a few of you check this one out. I have no idea if I’ll be able to make another one. If it’s another ten years, shit, it might be about oatmeal or lawn products. But in the meantime, I’m trying.

  21. I blind-bought this one, based on Vern’s review and I gotta say: I wasn’t disappointed! Considering the resources and budget, it’s definitely an impressive accomplishment. I truly hope we get another feature from Mr. Barnhardt. More people need to watch this one!

  22. Hey guys and gals of Vern-land. Sorry to be self-promoting but if I can’t with you folks then it’s hopeless. So I did an interview about this one (Rondo). So if anyone is interested in how or why a movie like this was made, I address the subject in this (in which I am alternately arrogant and self-hating. As usual). So give a listen if you give a shit. Oh, and it is also spoiler-filled.
    Also, I love reading you guys, love or hate, love to hear what y’all thought of the lil pic.
    Thanks buds.
    Hope everyone is safe and doing okay out there.

    Not Suitable For Anyone - Episode 16: Rondo featuring returning guest Drew Barnhardt!

    Listen to this episode from Not Suitable For Anyone on Spotify. Drew Barnhardt was one of my very first guests back in what are now the 'early days' of Not Suitable For Anyone.  He took a chance on me back when very few people I was contacting, Drew included, really knew who I was or what I was about. So it meant a lot to me when he agreed to come back for a second round on the show to talk about Rondo. This film was actually my first introduction to Drew's work, and I enjoyed it so much that I sought out his first film, Murder Loves Killers Too. To this day, MLKT remains one of my all-time favorite slashers, but Rondo will always hold a special place in my heart. It's combination of artful filmmaking with absolutely absurd story-turns and downright filthy dialogue absolutely tickles my depraved sense of humor. Rondo is the kind of movie that revels in depravity while telling a story with some of the most ridiculous caricatures of people I've ever seen. No, it doesn't feel grounded in reality, but who really wants that anyway? Please look for Rondo on DVD (try https://grindhousevideo.com/products/rondo-dvd?_pos=1&_sid=56ab4909f&_ss=r) or for digital rental or purchase pretty much everywhere (https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/rondo). Murder Loves Killers Too is also available on Amazon Prime (https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/murder-loves-killers-too) and on DVD (https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Loves-Killers-Allen-Andrews/dp/B001Y44DVS/). Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention Stephen Romano's fantastic artwork (some of which appears in the show's thumbnail). He's definitely worth a look, as is his fantastic book Shock Festival: http://www.stephenromanoshockfestival.com/#

  23. Jeffrey Roberie

    April 6th, 2021 at 11:53 am

    [full disclosure: I was asked to, if I want, post my thoughts publically]
    [potential SPOILERS follow]

    From the get-go, this one was one-hundred-percent my jam. I loved how I mostly didn’t know where the narrative was going and it just kept throwing curveballs at me but it never felt like it was ‘cheating.’ I also feel the need to give it huge credit for going dark but somehow never getting ‘too’ dark despite some of the subject matter on display. Not an easy balance to get.

    The movie also has a rarity of indie features: Reggie De Morton’s performance is an absolutely great nuanced performance. He conveys an awful human being but one who is also kinda relatable with his day-to-day woes. Honestly, kinda like The Cook in THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE.

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