Blending horror and comedy is a dangerous game. Most movies lean further into one category than the other, and the most notable of these genre blends often tend to dive deep into wackiness as opposed to actual scares. That’s not a negative quality, but it does make movies that are more straightforward with their horror and comedy leanings a little harder to swallow for audiences. Especially when it turns out that the movie isn’t aiming to be fun.
That’s the deal with Arizona: it’s got a sense of humor as dark as midnight and it won’t help a lot of viewers that the movie isn’t nice at all. It’s downright ugly, unnerving, and unsympathetic in its portrayal of a disturbed man named Sonny (Danny McBride) whose life is crumbling around him and he blames it on the housing crash of the late ‘00s. After confronting his realtor -- that doesn’t turn out well -- he kidnaps another realtor, Cassie (Rosemarie Dewitt), and everything continues to spiral into madness.
Considering that this is produced by Jody Hill and David Gordon Green -- the presence of Green and McBride is important as they’ll be handling the newest iteration of Halloween -- you shouldn’t be surprised that Arizona has a nasty streak. But, unlike the protagonists of Eastbound and Down, Vice Principals, and Observe and Report, Sonny is not someone you can sympathize or empathize with. He’s obviously disturbed and McBride’s performance might seem like one of his usual doofuses at first, but Sonny only becomes darker and more frightening as the movie chugs along. In all honesty, this might be one of McBride’s best performances but it’s not one that’s going to win him a lot of fans. Sonny is just too awful a person to feel sorry for. He’s definitely pitiful but not in the secretly lovable way a lot of McBride’s characters end up being.
And the attempts at humor in this movie do little to alleviate just how icky and uncomfortable Arizona is. Though, that certainly seems to be by design, so it’s not a slight against the movie at all. Frankly, there are moments of twisted humor that work but the movie is far more knowingly serious than its advertising or players involved might lead you to believe.
In fact, it might be best to not approach Arizona as a comedy to get the best experience out of it. Because the horror elements are quite effective. As I stated, McBride’s performance is great and he actually manages to come off as truly menacing by the film’s climax. That’s in part because Sonny and the entire situation feel believable. It’s like a story you hear about some idiotic criminal who kind of falls into an escalating series of bad decisions. Though the usual goofy jokes and juvenile mood peek through from time to time, the tension and horror are what make Arizona really work.
It’s a tough movie to recommend because it’s just so cruel. If you think you can deal with a movie that’s as unpleasant in tone as this, Arizona isn’t one to miss. It’s got laughs for those who can tap into their dark side, and it’s got enough of a horror slant to make it a curiosity for genre fans (though, I don’t think they’ll embrace it like I did). As someone who sings the praises of Observe and Report, this went to an even grimmer place and I still found myself enjoying it. That should be enough for you to gauge if this is right for you.