Trevor Yuenger’s Coyote is a surreal dream. Perhaps I have that feeling because I was watching it when I was tired, late at night, but the imagery and constant bombardment of odd ideas feels less like a movie and more like a nightmarish world of the overactive brain’s creation. Bill Oberst Jr. stars in this dreamscape, a man who has appeared in plenty of indie horror films in his day; and, as the film’s main lead, he holds things together very well as a man who is slowly (and then not-so-slowly) losing his grasp on where reality stops and his own self-conscious delusions begin.
Coyote doesn’t really have much in the way of a bona fide plot; it’s more a slice-of-life kind of tale, picking up with Obert’s character, also named Bill, attempting to whittle away at a story he’s writing throughout the night. He’s afraid to go to sleep, because when he sleeps people come to kill him, or he turns into a goopy insect, or he kills someone else. At first, Yuenger allows the audience to recognize the difference between dreamworld and reality – the colors of the dreams slip into dark reds, or fish-eye lens takes over to show the skewed perception. These beginning moments are truly effective, if a bit random; Oberst is excellent in his role, really selling the part with his odd antics.
At this point, though, Bill seems eccentric and plagued with bad dreams but nothing more than that. He’s still trying to hold down a normal life at his job moving furniture, and he even pursues a love interest named Jesse (Victoria Mullen) despite both of their strange personalities. Coyote takes quite a while to get anywhere, more interested in lingering in the area between true life and dreams and throwing a lot of interesting imagery at the viewer. Some of it sticks – the Gregor Samsa transformation into a fly in front of the mirror is excellent – and some of it falls flat, but all of it is unsettling.
But the latter half of Yuenger’s film fails to get much of a message across. In its attempts to disgust, trick, and oversaturate the viewer with twisted vignettes, Coyote often loses the impact of their meaning. In one scene, Bill walks around town with his coyote pelt on his head quoting Shakespeare; the words are clear enough (“to sleep, perchance to dream,” etc.), but the actions aren’t. That’s often the case as Bill falls deeper into his consuming madness, where what he does and what the film allows us to know about him don’t sync up into cohesion.
But it’s interesting to take Coyote simply for what it is instead of looking for some sort of meaning amid the chaos. Because the film doesn’t have a linear narrative, it’s often so unstructured that sense of time and movement are stilted – in general, Coyote feels timeless, like days and weeks are rolled into each other without the audience’s knowledge. It’s a trip, and that’s due to Yuenger’s experimental direction and the cinematography’s off-kilter shots.
Still, Coyote is going to be for a certain set of people, while others fail to see the draw. The arthouse subject matter invites and rejects critical thought – it’s something that should be experienced, not pored over. The overall theme of Coyote gets lost in its experiments, but the excursion through a man’s mad thoughts is disconcerting enough to overcome the need for a clear message, at least during the film. There’s meat to Coyote, if you can get through the gristle.