Infantrymen are waking up in full battle dress under the pines of a manicured mid-century subdivision. They mount the tarred roof of what might be an elementary school and return fire at an unseen enemy covered somewhere across the school’s front drive. A man on a riding mower throws the platoon a neighborly wave. During another firefight, PFC Fagen wanders behind a vinyl-sided shed and drops his rifle. Is he taking a nervous piss, or is he about to turn leg case, do a runner, go full-on deserter?
In movies about modern warfare, the landscape is less often a theater of heroism and sacrifice and more often a psychological metaphor, a mindscape. Apocalypse Now is set along a just-barely-fictionalized Mekong whose scenery is staged and described in explicitly gonzo terms (“a river that snaked through the war like a main circuit cable…”). Kubrick meticulously de-manicured a swath of post-industrial East London and stuffed it with plastic plants, setting Full Metal Jacket’s second half in the depths of the Uncanny Valley.
Eric Marsh and Andrew Stasiulis’ Orders forgoes any attempt to re-create or simulate the fluid battleground of the War on Terror. Instead, they plug it directly into its own main power circuit, the American homeland. Instead of an APC, Fagen’s buddies hop into a pickup truck to hunt him across the cul-de-sacs. When they need a little R&R they bivouac behind a tract-house and violently pound Hammses and High Lives in resin Adirondack chairs. Fagen is sheltered by a family of locals who play the dual role assigned to them by the wisdom of anti-insurgency: both hearts and minds to be won and rebels to be quelled and controlled. The father slices watermelon with the spit-shine of a circuit preacher, while his son, an archetypal Boy on a Bike, cruises the neighborhood like a ghost, with his hood always up.
Sleep deprived beyond all fuck-giving and with only his fast-diminishing sense of the real to rely on, Fagen is unstuck in time like his fellow US Infantryman Billy Pilgrim. Like Willard on the Nung River, the warrior and his battlefield twist together as a closing circle of signifiers over-populates this green and pleasant world: watermelons, plastic deck chairs, firecrackers, crushed beers, tiki-torches, empty boots, empty streets, block after block of empty houses.
Marsh and Stasiulis fill up their film with abandoned, haunted suburban textures: mildew-spatter on a garage door, an empty flower bed surrounded by dry-rotted railroad ties, the spaces that empty out as American home life knots ever-tighter around the glowing screen at its center. It’s the perfect place from which to speak on drifting monotony and forgottenness, the status quo of the film’s addled men. -Jonathan Kieran.