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  • Writer's pictureRob Binns

Brooklyn 45 (2023) Review and Summary

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

“Remember Jimmy Rogers? That poor kid we tried to staple back together in Normandy? Don’t you just wanna know that he’s still got that smile on his face; that he's out there somewhere?”

Caution! This Brooklyn 45 review contains spoilers. Proceed at your own peril!

Brooklyn 45 drops us into a wintery scene – setting us down on the threshold of a New York city home on the evening of December 27, 1945.

We’re soon introduced to a group of friends, gathering for a post-WWII dinner party, and the various enlacing networks of relationships and enmities within. We meet Marla (Anne Ramsay) and Bob Sheridan (Ron E. Rains).

Marla was a feared Allied enforcer in the war, while Bob was some kind of clerk. As they get out of the car, we’re treated to a glimpse of their gentleness around one another – as well as the refined, gentlemanly nature with which Bob treats his wife.

As Jeremy Holm’s Mjr Archibald Stanton enters the picture, however, we soon see simmering tensions bubbling away. Stanton is brash and straight-talking. And it soon becomes clear that he – along with the other friends we meet, including Lt Col Clive “Hock” Hockstatter (Larry Fessenden), and Mjr Paul DiFranco (Ezra Buzzington), – resent Bob for the pencil-pushing role he played during the war, while they were all on the frontlines.

Ron E. Rains as Bob in Brooklyn 45 2023

Bob cops some flak (and not the anti-aircraft kind) for failing to be on the war's frontlines.

There’s a fair bit of post-war back-rubbing and dick-swinging here as director Ted Geoghegan lays the table and sets up the characters, as well as their relatively unique backdrop in place and time. Early on, we get the sense that Geoghegan is interested in plumbing this strange – and largely unexplored in cinema – territory following World War II. He said as much on a June episode of popular Stephen King podcast The Kingcast, stating:

“It’s a time that’s almost never used in entertainment. We think of post-war America as ‘everyone moves to the suburbs, has 2.5 children; that sailor kissing the woman in Times Square’. But really, the end of 1945 and a good chunk of 1946 was just awful. Everybody had come back from the war as shells of who they were: facing down not only the atrocities they’d seen, but those they’d committed; trying to reintegrate themselves back into society. It was kinda nightmarish. I thought this is an interesting time to set a genre film. Like the best years of our lives, but with a ghost.”

Written in 2018, the movie’s seed came from Geoghegan being constantly told how much people loved the seance scene in his movie We Are Still Here. (Which, incidentally, is brilliant.) After constantly making the same joke – that his next film was just going to be one long seance – Geoghegan realised he actually wanted to make it.

Thus, an idea was born – a movie shot entirely in real time, in one room.

But back to the plot. We learn that Fessenden’s character, Hock, is reeling in the wake of his wife Susie’s suicide. There’s a lot of guilt bound up in this too – Susie was convinced their German neighbour was a Nazi spy, no one (including Hock) believed her, and she took her own life as a result. We get all this in the form of a two-minute monologue, with celebrated character actor Fessenden – known, largely for his bit parts across a splatter of B- and C-grade genre films – knocking it for six.

We learn that since then, Hock has lost his faith in Christianity, and become more interested in ‘metaphysics’: ghosts, ghouls, the lot of it. He’s been drinking heavily, and as his monologue unwinds and unravels, he unveils his reason for bringing them together this fine late December eve – a seance.

The others, reluctantly, agree. We learn the seance’s ground rules – that the spirits invoked will talk directly through the participants, as their conduits. And that the circle of hands can’t be broken until the seance ends – otherwise the door opened to the ‘other side’ remains open. (It's a similar principle as the demonic conversations of 2023's Talk to Me; read my review of that banging Aussie flick for more info – it's unmissable.) Hock produces one of Susan’s handkerchiefs to channel her spirit: placing a scrap of it in a locket, then setting it down in a bowl at the centre of the table.

DiFranco and Hock hold a seance in Brooklyn 45 2023

Constipation: it's no joke.

DiFranco is the most sceptical. “This ain’t about that kid in Normandy,” he accuses. “This is about Susie”. But despite his, and the room’s, reservations, the seance kicks off.

Immediately, weird shit starts happening. A banging comes from the closet, and the necklace begins to vibrate and jump around in its dish, before rising and rotating – as if guided by an invisible hand – around the table.

Someone – or perhaps something – has arrived.

Suddenly, Hock vomits up a small, luminous cloud of vapour, which settles in the centre of the table and sits there, ominously. Susan’s ghostly voice appears to accuse Hock of not believing her claims, before a mottled, translucent arm reaches up out of the cloud. The gramophone starts playing, as if of its own accord; the closet banging resumes, intensity threefold; then someone breaks the circle, and the seance winds down. But they didn’t finish the seance – and, as Hock reminds us, the door isn’t yet closed.

This is one of his last contributions to the evening’s conversation, though, as Hock promptly places the barrel of his army-issued pistol in his mouth and pulls the trigger. Brains splatter the wall; the closet banging resumes; and, perhaps most horrifyingly, Bob realises the door (the literal door, this one) is locked. Hock has sealed them in; there’s no way out.

The plot thickens as a gagged and tied up woman – who, ungagging herself, is revealed to be German – falls out of the closet. She tries to escape, but Paul levels his gun at her, stating flatly “you’re a Kraut’. The presence in the closet wasn’t paranormal – but we get the sense that something supernatural is about to take place.

The German’s name is Hildegard "Hildie" Baumann (Kristina Klebe), and as she speaks we get a different side to the story. This was the spy Susie was accusing, although Hildie claims she’s been living in New York since 1931, dwells with her husband and two kids just three doors away, and that her dad owns the grocery store nearby. She doesn’t seem like a Nazi spy – and, as she points out, Hock only started believing Susie when she slashed her wrists. Anyways, he drugged and abducted Hildie – but to what end?

Kristina Klebe as Hildegard Baumann in Brooklyn 45

Coming out of the closet: Kristina Klebe as Hildegard Baumann.

DiFranco's paranoia starts to get worse; he accuses Marla of not supporting Susia by interrogating Hildegard when her friend asked her to. He has a dig at Bob; Marla responds that the war is over, and that it isn’t her job to quiz civilians. Fair point.

Marla – a brutal interrogator during the war – certainly seems like the most reasonable here. She advocates for them all getting out of there, letting the German walk, and putting the whole disturbing evening behind them. The others are more reticent. Stanton reasons that Hock wanted them to discover the German, that there was a method behind the evening’s goings on. Still, it’s not exactly clear what that might be.

Stanton isn’t a big fan of the German-shaped elephant in the room, as Geoghegan plays expertly on America’s post-war anxieties and xenophobia.

“I don’t like you,” Stanton says to Hildie. “I don’t like your name, and I don’t like you living in my country.”

Jeremy Holm as Archie Stanton in Brooklyn 45

Archie Stanton (Jeremy Holm): maroon-clad post-war xenophobia.

As the conversation progresses, we learn that Hock never killed anybody, even during the war – he’d heave, lose focus, and shape up to vomit. Instead, he’d send someone else in (like Stanton) to do it for him. Could Hock, the group reasons, have brought his old war buddies to his home to kill the suspected Nazi spy he reasons is responsible for Susie’s suicide?

DiFranco’s still not letting anyone leave the room. He gives a speech about killing an Italian boy at war, stabbing him in the mouth as he stammered “I love America”. He’s evidently a real piece of work. Hildie sits him down by responding that his name is Italian.

He has no comeback.

Ezra Buzzington as Paul DiFranco in Brooklyn 45

Ezra Buzzington as Paul DiFranco. Not a very nice man.

DiFranco and Stanton exchange some harsh words, and the former’s not done – riling up his old colleague with gay slurs and referring to him as the “Baby Butcher”. A nerve has clearly been touched, and it’s revealed: Stanton is the infamous Berlin Butcher, who was on trial for killing... KIDS! He took a bunch of grenades to a kindergarten, blowing 56 children to bits to get to a few snipers on the roof. It’s a tense, terrific scene, this, and everyone – Holm, particularly – is phenomenal.

Unfortunately, we now get a period in which the film drags a bit. Too much talking; too much standing around in the same positions, doing and saying the same sorts of things. DiFranco is convinced Hildie is a Nazi spy; to us, her story checks out, and she seems a perfectly kind, normal US citizen. The rest of them basically want it all to be over.

DiFranco makes Stanton an offer: trade the key for the gun.

Stanton refuses, and tries to shoot his way out of the room. It’s not happening, though, and DiFranco eventually relents – but with a twist. If DiFranco lets them out, he won’t take the stand for Stanton at his friend’s upcoming trial for being the “Berlin Butcher”. He also vows to follow the ‘Nazi’ home and kill her.

Marla takes charge, sitting down with Hildie. Whispering to her softly in German, the seasoned torturer warns “this is going to hurt''. Marla withdraws a thin blade – the literally knife edge mirroring the metaphorical one we’re sitting on as the interrogation progresses.

It’s nail-biting cinema; it’s good.

Anne Ramsay as Marla Sheridan in Brooklyn 45

Marla Sheridan: a torturer with a conscience.

Hildie makes some fair points: that Susan’s suspicions were a manifestation of her own xenophobia and fears, and that Hock only believed her later as a target to aim his guilt and shame at. The torture ends; Marla concludes Hildie isn’t, in fact a Nazi.

DiFranco – obviously – isn’t convinced, but agrees to unlock the door. Unfortunately for the room, the lock swallows the key. They’re trapped!

Alright – here’s when Hock’s cooling corpse begins to speak, with a stilted, disjointed voice as though he’s enunciating his words through graveyard dirt. With this, we get the movie’s creepiest moment so far. “Somebody is going to do something” the bag of bones implores. “Somebody is going to kill that Nazi”. We get the sense that Hock’s spirit – if that’s what you want to call it – is unwilling to let anyone leave the room until Hildie is murdered. The door is still open, remember – and, with 24 minutes of the film to go, this erstwhile seance clearly has some life (or, perhaps, death) left to live.

“This is hell, this room,” says DiFranco. It’s unclear whether he means that in a purely figurative, or perhaps literal sense, too – that the site of Hock’s party is a kind of purgatory, housing the worst of this guilt-ridden group’s wartime anxieties and disgraces. Either way, Marla pitches, the group has to finish the seance – to close the door it first opened, and open that literal door so they can all go home.

The seance starts; things are said. Bob grows a pair and calls DiFranco a bitter, twisted old knob. DiFranco, in turn, claims neither Hock nor Susie ever liked Bob. Then the lights go out, and Susie’s ghostly apparition appears: and she’s dropping BOMBS.

The Susie ghost claims Hildie – aware that Hock’s wife was onto her – broke into her apartment, pinned her down, and slit Susie’s wrists: before framing it as a suicide. The lights come back on, and Hildie is left shaking, visibly rattled, on the floorboards. The room still won’t release them, and the mouth of Hock’s corpse begins to emit ghastly groaning noises and a blood pool.

Stanton peels away from the table, diving at the door, desperate to get out. “Send me to prison,” he pleads. “Send me to Hell. Just let me out. Something honours his request, and the doors open. They don’t reveal sanctuary, though, or absolution – only what we can assume to be the charred, grasping corpses of the children in that German kindergarten he blew up.

Something elastic in DiFranco that’s been stretching and fraying all night finally snaps. He throws himself at Hildie and begins throttling her with his bare hands. The others intervene. By now, though, the tide of audience opinion is turning against Hildie somewhat – the perplexing protestations that came across as honest indignance before are starting, slowly but surely, to seem like guilt.

There’s a standoff between DiFranco and Stanton, leading to a quote that pretty much summarises director Geoghegan’s intentions for the film:

“The Nazis are gone,” Stanton says. “We’re fighting ghosts, Paul – ghosts like Hock.”

Here, we get the film directly comparing the film’s literal ghosts – the slightly goofy-looking apparition of Susan, floating through the room like Nearly Headless Nick, and the somewhat creepier way in which Hock’s corpse growls and seethes from a pool of blood – with the metaphorical ones. These other ghosts are the lingering psychological remnants of war: the shame, the guilt, the fear. The horror of coming back, of expecting your country to greet you with honour and veneration, yet meeting only averted glances. Of being not your peoples' saviour, but an uncomfortable blot on the sheet to be tucked away, smudged over; an unwanted reminder of an unpalatable past. These are the real ghosts, argues Brooklyn 45 – and they’re far scarier than anything that belongs in the spectral realm.

Stanton launches into a speech about how, by ordering him to blow up that school, Hock ruined his life. This, too, is yet another intelligent take on the agency of an individual soldier in wartime. Faced with a missive handed down by a superior, do they have any choice but to follow it – even if that leads to an infringement on their morals, and the so-called morals of the country they’re fighting for? This angle is, of course, the one many Nazis used as part of the Nuremberg Defence – that they were simply ‘following orders’.

That the avid Nazi-haters in the room are wrestling with such similar concepts and conundrums means this film, or at least this passage of it, surely has something to say about the nature of good and evil. And that these principles are loose enough to be able to be dictated not by some overarching ideal – but by the winners of the war alone.

Philosophical musings aside, Hock’s corpse jerks back into life, sitting up and commanding that DiFranco kills Hildie. Hock’s corpse begins smashing its own face against the table: knocking out some teeth and leaving the polished mahogany of the table in a real, bloody state until I’m not sure it’s Fessenden playing the character anymore. The corpse sits there indolently as the gramophone, playing as if with a mind of its own, plays out its listless tune.

Larry Fessenden's Hock is beaten, bruised, and bloodied at a seance in Brooklyn 45

'Fess up, Fessenden... is that still you?

Oh, and then Bob blows DiFranco’s head off. (He now has the gun, for some reason.) “What did you do?” Marla asks, but it’s pretty clear. DiFranco had it coming.

Bob aims a gun in terror in Brooklyn 45 2023


Oh, wait – then Bob blows Hildie’s head off, too! “What did you do, Bob?” asks Stanton, mirroring Marla’s exact comment of moments ago. Are we about to find out that this pencil pusher’s role at the Pentagon is less admin-heavy – and more hands on – than we previously realised? Who knows, no one does – because all of a sudden, the door opens.

Will there be a happy ever after for this bunch of Brooklynites?

Well…how do you define ‘happy ending’? If we judge it by the appalled, uncomprehending look Marla gives her husband, it’s not there. Nor is it written on the face of Stanton as he picks up his coat and leaves: new layers of guilt, shame, and disgust writ large across the creases and crevices of his brow. Just as they did at the film’s outset, the three leave the house together. Although this time, Bob’s gesture of chivalry, as he reaches softly for his wife’s arm, or to guide her into the car, are coldly rejected.

Stanton says that he plans to tell the courts in his upcoming trial exactly what happened; and invites Bob, too, to take responsibility for what he did. He leaves, and Marla and Bob climb into the car.

“Can’t we just fuck the whole goddamn war?” Marla asks.

Marla and Bob sit in the car in Brooklyn 45 2023

Brooklyn 45: fewer happy endings than an out-of-business Thai massage joint.

Snow falls softly. Street lights glimmer. The camera pans up and to the side, towards the house, as we fade, a la the film’s beginning, to black and white.

Brooklyn 45 leaves us with some big questions. Was Hildie really a Nazi? Did she murder Susie, and were Susie’s suspicions actually correct – or mere manifestations first of paranoia, and later of a husband facing unbearable grief? We don’t know – and the film seems content not to indulge our curiosity.

What the film does seem happy to say is that spectres aren’t necessarily what we conjure up through a seance, or watch groping their way across the room, gurgling through a cloud of ectoplasmic vapour. They’re in our past. In the decisions we make, the things we regret, and the events, the people, and the places that stay with us. That look at us, over our shoulders, from some dark, unknown place; a place with locked doors and keys that vanish; an old room with low ceilings and candles that flicker unsettlingly.

They’re the real ghosts. And they haunt us!

On the hunt for more of the latest horror movie recaps and analysis? Take a squiz at my review of Malum (2023) or explore Talking Terror's take on a review of 1992's Braindead.

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