Endurance competitions reek of desperation. Perhaps it’s the memory of the Depression dance marathon at the centre of 1969’s They Shoot Horses Don’t They? with its equally desperate $1,500 prize. More latterly, what was a distressing spectator sport has been replaced by truck touching competitions: the name can vary but the idea remains the same. A group of people stand around a car or truck, each touching it with at least one hand: however long it takes, the last person standing wins the vehicle.
In Bastian Gunther’s One Of These Days, the event is organised by Joan (Carrie Preston), the chirpy PR at a local truck dealer in a small southern town. Twenty contestants are chosen by ballot and, with minimal breaks, they battle against the effects of sleep deprivation, lack of nourishment, scorching heat and pouring rain and each other. Some give up early but, as the digital clock reaches over 3 and a half days, a handful of them are still there, forcing themselves to keep their hands on the truck and their eyes open. One of them is Kyle (Joe Cole) who, on minimum wage and with a wife and baby, is determined to win so that he can provide for his young family. His motives are constantly pilloried by Kevin (Jesse C Boyd), while the God-fearing Ruthie (Lynne Ashe) constantly rebukes the male contestants for their language, turning regularly to her Bible and members of her congregation who show up to support her. As the contest reaches its climax, a tragic incident turns everything on its head and the efforts to create a festive atmosphere around the contest become horribly sour.
Such competitions, whatever you want to call them, are surprisingly frequent. Real events, which were the subject of the 1997 documentary Hands On A Hardbody, inspired the film and similar competitions take place all over the world. In the UK, Channel 5 produced a TV show based on the format, but Touch The Truck only lasted for one season. It’s not hard to understand why. Even when the people touching the truck move around to get some exercise, it’s not visual enough to attract spectators – but that’s exactly what the dealership in the film tries to do. Saturday night is party night, complete with b-b-q, lots of drink and the truck competition at it centre. And, aside from that social element, there’s a drip feed of people who turn up at all hours to watch the contestants. Some, but not all, are supporting one or other of them, but it all leaves a very iffy taste in the mouth.
Gunther, however, shifts our perspective. We start out among the crowd, merely by-standers but, as the film progresses, we’re taken into the world of the contestants, still grimly touching that blue truck as if their lives depended on it. And, in a sense, they do. It represents different things to each of them – cold hard cash, the chance to escape the limits of small town life, a new beginning or, in the case of Kyle, his first opportunity to be what he feels is a real husband and father, a true provider. We experience the mental and physical toll it takes on him and Cole does a great job in embodying the desperation that’s put him where he is. Increasingly dead behind the eyes and slurred of speech, it overwhelms the young man and reaches a shocking conclusion.
Or does it? The final fifteen minutes make you wonder and, combined with a plot twist which never quite makes sense and some camera work reminiscent of Google Street View, it gives the film a less than satisfactory ending. The desperation is sharply portrayed, but the sense that the film could have dug deeper is unavoidable. The ridiculous aspect of the contest is never really touched upon but, more importantly, any element of social commentary is noticeable by its absence. As it stands, it makes for interesting viewing, but that gut punch is sorely missed.
Drama | Cert: 15 | Soho Studios | UK cinemas from 1 April 2022 | Dir. Bastian Gunther| Joe Cole, Carrie Preston, Callie Fernandez, Jesse C Boyd, Lynne Ashe, Cullen Moss.