Love them or hate them, the popularity of “unlikable” protagonists has been on the rise in film and television this past decade. Just last year, the FX comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005 – Present) was renewed for four more seasons, making it the longest running live-action comedy series in American history, and Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013) still looms large in the public consciousness a little less than eight years after its series finale aired on AMC. As popular as these antiheroes have become, however, the characters of this nature that viewers seem to find the most endearing or, at least, the most entertaining to watch, seem to have one thing in common: they are almost always men. Sure, It’s Always Sunny features Deandra “Dee” Reynolds (Kaitlin Olson) as a member of its main cast, but the gang is 4:1 in favor of her male counterparts, and while Search Party (2016 – Present) features an unlikable leading woman in Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat), the show has faced criticism from viewers who complained they could no longer root for her when the show took her down a darker path in its second and third seasons.
In her feature film debut, I Blame Society (2021), director Gillian Wallace Horvat plays with the idea of the unlikable female protagonist and society’s reaction to imperfect women by presenting the audience with an irredeemable murderess at the film’s center. Gillian, played by Horvat, is a struggling filmmaker uncertain of what to make her next big project until she receives a “compliment” from her friends that she would make a good murderer. She then proceeds to create an unconventional documentary about herself, constructing a narrative by interviewing friends and family about her capacity to actually murder someone and visiting potential locations for her imagined crime around town. The situation escalates as Gillian becomes desperate to add more and more shocking material to her film, resulting in I Blame Society becoming an occasionally tense, but darkly comedic, mumblecore horror film.
It can be hit or miss when a writer/director casts themselves as their film’s lead, but Horvat crafts a complex, disturbing, and incredibly interesting character in her performance as Gillian. It certainly helps her case that the other actors in the film play off of her act so well. While Gillian progressively becomes more unhinged in her defiance of social norms, the characters around her remain realistic in their portrayal of modern society. Some of the best scenes are those of Gillian and two men looking to hire her as a director at their production company, expertly critiquing the “boy’s club” mentality and faux wokeness of studio heads looking to hire women for appearances without allowing those same women to have significant enough roles in a film’s creative process.
From a visual standpoint, I Blame Society could be said to be lacking, but it more often than not makes its low budget work in its favor, such as the film’s occasional use of a found footage aesthetic. It helps its case that I Blame Society is very transparent in telling the viewers what kinds of cameras and equipment is being used to film and why — a convention that works well with its filmmaker protagonist.
It would be unsurprising if I Blame Society was a film met with mixed reviews, as it is a very in-your-face film with regards to both its message as well as the depravity of its main character, but I believe it to also be a timely film and one that is both incredibly witty and well-written. Although it’s certainly more of a dark comedy than it is a horror film, it also features some fun and unique murderous concepts appropriate for its maladjusted protagonist.
I Blame Society is a film that has seemingly flown under the radar in a year full of direct-to-streaming releases, but it is also a title worth checking out, if not for its clever premise, then for its uniquely presented perspective on sexism in the modern film industry.