The Whole Lot runs about 75 minutes and packs a whole lot of unpleasantness into every single second. Not the sort of unpleasantness that makes a film unwatchable, though. On the contrary.
It’s a close-quarters family drama where all three of the story’s characters are deeply, fundamentally unlikable in unexpected ways. The twists are surprising and strange, their resolutions eventful and gripping. It’s far from a feel-good movie, but sometimes it’s fun to feel bad in the hands of a filmmaker who knows how to capture your attention for an hour and change.
Della (Sarah McLoney) is a thirtysomething charged with executing the estate of her late father — a gambler and a bit of a cheat who owned a remote farm filled with classic cars he liked to restore with Della’s brother, Jamie (Aaron Kramer). Addiction runs in the family. Jamie carries a flask everywhere he goes and can’t seem to hold down a job while their mother suffers from substance abuse issues. The family was already broken before Daddy’s death; he had cheated on their mother with a coworker, and things spiraled out from there. Years went by. Nothing healed.
Della’s responsibilities mean reopening the festering filial wounds. To make matters worse, her only instruction was to distribute enough to Jamie to make him happy but not spoil him. She sold the house to pay the debts, but the classic cars remain, all in pristine and valuable condition. Can Jamie be trusted to do anything but sell them for drugs? What about the potential financial windfall from selling them herself? Della initially offers him one car, which he considers an insult. Things only deteriorate from there.
That’s where Della’s husband, Eli (Blake Webb), enters the picture with a plan: Sell the cars, start their own business. Eli already has it all mapped out. Investors are chomping at the bit, or so he claims. Jamie hates Eli, and the feeling is mutual. It’s a pretty lousy situation for Della, who sort of hates her own husband as much as she hates her brother.
There’s a lot of hate going around in the barn where director Connor Rickman and writer Matthew Ivan Bennett set their morality play, and the feeling permeates the whole film. None of the three is remotely likable. Each one is selfish, entitled and angry. Della is ostensibly the protagonist; to give her a more character, they introduce her after having found her infant son dead from SIDS. (Like I said, unpleasant.) This backstory gives the two men a knife to twist, but it also feels like the only thing that makes Della remotely sympathetic. She’s just as selfish as her brother and husband.
All of them argue over who gets to take which car, and each mistrusts one another’s motives. There’s no doubt the cars will eventually end up sold to a buyer somewhere else. It’s not an emotional decision, just petty power plays, but it’s compelling, though — especially when the third act turns everything on its head. It’s the sort of story beat that made me wonder what the hell was happening in this little drama. A little ridiculous, sure, but the kind of strange moment a tale like this needs to differentiate itself from the pack. No spoilers.
I knew nothing about The Whole Lot walking into it, and I was better off for it. Although at its core it’s another well-shot three-person morality play in a single location, the script chooses to turn everything upside down, and that confidence pays off. Good stuff.