Who has ownership of grief or blame in the midst of a tragedy?
Michael Shannon’s directorial debut “Eric LaRue” beautifully unpacks how the sins of the son impact both the father and mother in his adaptation of Brett Neveu’s 2002 play of the same name. Judy Greer and Alexander Skarsgård portray two parents whose teenage son — unseen until the final moments of the film — murdered three classmates in a school shooting, and the duo are left in the wake of the violence to rebuild in their small community.
Greer’s Janice aimlessly wonders how culpable she is in her serial killer son’s actions, while her husband finds solace in joining a new church and becoming very close friends with his fellow congregation member and human resources executive, played by a perfectly unhinged Alison Pill. Their entire suburban community onscreen is built upon the mundanity of conformity, complete with Janice’s job at a Big Lots-adjacent big box retailer and her husband’s penchant for drinking beers alone at Sizzlin’ Sallies.
Janice is pressured at every turn, even by her boss, to participate in a sit-down therapy session with the three mothers of the deceased boys that Janice’s son Eric murdered. While Janice avoids even visiting Eric in prison, she is torn between cleaning out his room and grappling with the role of faith and religion. Is she to blame for her son’s actions? And if not, who is?
Greer is a force onscreen, opposite a barely-recognizable Skarsgård, who fully delves into a performance that should draw comparisons to a chameleon-like cosplay of Jeff from “Yellowjackets” (in the best way possible). Both characters seek forgiveness from each other as parents and from the community at large.
Janice asks of her husband, her coworkers, and even the audience what she is “supposed to be feeling” as the mother of a monster. Her negligence is balanced with something more deeply-seated, a knowingness that Eric was destined for disaster even as an infant. As Eric later begs his mother to make sure she tells her friends that he feels remorseful, Janice can’t feel anything at all. It’s best experienced within the confines of Shannon’s film, even if that ultimately means many moments of profound discomfort.
“Eric LaRue” also deftly balances moments of dark comedy thanks to the absurdity of the circumstances that unfold after an unthinkable tragedy. Playwright and frequent Shannon collaborator Neveu adapted his own play for the screen, and Shannon’s sensitive direction makes “Eric LaRue” a haunting, standout film with a career-best performance from Greer.
“Eric LaRue” premiered at 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.