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The Independent Critic

Amber Benson, Aaron Gaffey, Jeremiah Birkett, Travis Betz, Devin Barry, Bo Roberts
Ward Roberts
NR (Equiv. to "R")
90 Mins.
Breaking Glass Pictures

 "Dust Up" has One Eye on Grindhouse Inspiration 
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Jack (Aaron Gaffey) is a one-eyed vigilante with a past trying to change his ways.

Ellen (Amber Benson) is a loyal wife to drug-addled Herman (Travis Betz) and mother to Lucy (Bo Roberts) who's trying to start over fresh in a new town.

This ain't gonna' be pretty.

It sure is funny.

Dust Up is funny. Dust Up is demented. Dust Up is psychotic. Dust Up is gory. Dust Up is weird and wild and wonderful and seriously, seriously whacked.

In other words, Dust Up is just about everything you could possibly want from a low-budget indie with grindhouse inspirations, relentless exploitation and a tongue so firmly planted within cheek that you could practically eat it.


The film comes from the mind of writer/director Ward Roberts, a seemingly normal guy from Indiana who in 2006 directed the Heartland Film Festival flick Little Big Top, a not quite normal film starring Sid Haig as a not so happy clown. This film, like that one, is produced by Drexel Box Films, an outfit that has continued to produce mighty fine films such as Lo, The Dead Inside, Joshua and Sunday, the latter of which made The Independent Critic's Top 10 films 2-3 years ago.

In this film, Jack has committed himself to peaceful ways after returning from the military with what seems like a 3-D case of PTSD. He's also got a penance to pay, and the debt comes due when he meets Ella and learns that she and her husband are in serious debt to one seriously demented drug dealer, Buzz (Jeremiah Birkett), who starts off the film crazed and goes downhill from there.

While there's no chance that Dust Up will be knocking on the door of the Heartland Film Festival anytime soon, Roberts again proves himself able to take ultra-dark material, add moments of genuine levity and, just for kicks, add in just a hint of a redemptive message that makes it all seem worthwhile even as you're sitting there watching the screen as blood and body parts are coming right at you.

It helps that Roberts has such a tremendous cast, several of whom are Drexel Box regulars and with whom Roberts obviously has tremendous chemistry. The film's biggest name is likely Amber Benson, whom most of America knows from her time on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I, on the other hand, will always treasure her fantastic performance in the vastly underseen indie film Simple Things, where she played the mother of a baby with spina bifida living in a mountain town. Benson arguably has the biggest challenge here as she possesses what may very well be the film's only semi-normal character. Benson's Ella is a loyal wife and mother living in a rather demented world and having markedly demented things going on all around her. Benson's task is to turn Ella into a normal woman in an abnormal world.  She nails it.

The rest of the roles are for the most part quite a bit showier, with Aaron Gaffey turning in his best performance to date as Jack, a man who is part Lone Ranger and part Eastwood who exudes peace while simmering with intensity right underneath the surface. Jack could have easily become a caricature, but Gaffey does a remarkable job here. The same is true for Devin Barry, whose Mo serves as Jack's sidekick and sort of resembles a mixture Tonto meets Adrien Brody meets Jack Torrance with a gleam in his eyes. Having seen several performances of both Barry and Gaffey, I have no hesitation in saying this is their finest work to date.

As Travis Betz has been spending most of his time behind-the-scenes lately, I'd forgotten just how good he can be on the big screen. Betz's Herman manages to be both maniacal and sympathetic, no small task for a guy with a penchant for drugs and rather minimal natural fatherhood instincts.

The film is very nearly stolen by the deliciously over-the-top performance of Jeremiah Birkett as Buzz, a man whose demented nature seemingly has no limits. Every time you think Birkett has taken things about as far as they can go, he stops, smirks and takes it an extra step.


D.P. Shannon Hourigan lenses Dust Up beautifully, giving the film a sort of washed out and multi-layered look that leaves you feeling like you're immersed in the film yourself. It's a terrific way to shoot an exploitation-styled film and makes the film even more satisfying. Kudos must also be given for Kirpatrick Thomas's original music and Molly O'Haver's excellent costume design.

Dust Up definitely isn't for the timid. If you have any doubt that Roberts intended to go fully over-the-top, you need only consider that in the film's 90 minutes we experience everything from a baby at risk (Roberts' own baby son, Bo) to cannibalism to masturbation death and more.

Yes, I said more.

The good news is that Roberts absolutely nails the right vibe for the film by weaving together the humor, the horror, the heart and a whole lot more. You might think 70's exploitation flick meets Natural Born Killers meets True Grit on acid.

Seriously. Demented. So. Fun.

Dust Up has been picked up for distribution by those awesome folks at Breaking Glass Pictures, and is available this very week through VOD outlets and is continuing to wind its way through a limited indie/arthouse run before its official November home video release. Be sure to visit the film's website for the latest screening dates.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic