Written & Directed by Xavier Coleman
Sigh. Gentrification. A topic so multi-layered that its core is an accurate representative of deep space. It is defined as "the buying and renovation of houses and stores in deteriorated urban neighborhoods by upper- or middle-income families or individuals, raising property values but often displacing low-income families and small businesses." Every observation outlined by some of my favorite television series such as Shameless and Insecure is like a stroll through almost any U.S. major city, including my own. My early non-profit work was to provide the resources needed to build a local business for the neighborhood lifers, but instant wealth swarmed into their spaces and won over too quickly to create that foundation. Turning Kensington/Fishtown into "New Fish" if you're in Philly like me and the stakes seem even higher in New York, the historical epicenter of artistic prosperity where Brooklyn tenets are forced to take landlords to court who are systemically striking on duties to receive renters willing to pay the upwards of $3100 a month.
The above, ranty boiling point is a peek into a hot energy that is calculated, that houses a negativity that is desperate for a safe house. The anger, my anger at the insistence of these practices that are fundementally inequitable and leave many who began with less opportunities, resources, and the longer ladder to climb for stability treated as less than and then displaced makes my head spin. Like many others I'm certain, a release for what can't be solved with immediacy is necessary.
A cathartic, allegorical statement on gentrication as a slasher tale is the untapped space filmmaker Xavier Coleman cornered in horror; taking his love of suburban classics like Halloween (1978) and A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) and flipping the coin entirely on the side of the urban. Where the lines of who inhabits that space are now (and honestly, never have been) not as clear cut as the media once inmagined, White Knuckle rubs its hands like Birdman to get right down to how far some would take reversing gentrification's inevitable outcomes.
Coleman carefully makes visually clever symbolic choices that amp up feelings of erasure and hostility, beginning from the very first frame that sets the tone for the entire film. The set-up is all about our response and inward ideas of what once was is no more, particularly in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Twins Rich (Xavier Scott Evans) and Jay (Kendra Holloway) break the tension only slightly in the home they just bought, finding a need for an extra tenant. The potential Troy (Max Sheldon) sits opposite at their dining room table astutely as they discuss Bed-Stuy's dramatic changes and what may be the motive of a mysterious killer striking thrice in a two week time frame.
What we gain from the exposition is that these two topics are intensely unified. The breadcrumbs of familiar suspense cues and a sound design reminiscent of Hitchcock, White Knuckle concludes to inspire further exchange about what the city and surburbs connote to black and white, rich and poor. The very quippy and complicated sibling pair are examinations of displacement, frustration, and generational aspirations that make White Knuckle such a highly intelligent short that is incredibly hard to review without cutting into major spoiler territory.
White Knuckle is a peek into that safe house, the penetrable section of the deep space gentrication has compiled in its national domination, and it doesn't simmer the anger as much as it mourns what is truly lost in its supremacy; a sense of community, home, and self that in horror's best fashion, offers no clear and easy resolutions.