• Kate Lyn Sheil (center) in Empire Builder

In my recent post about tonight’s “Joe & Kris Swanberg double feature” at Doc Films, I failed to grant more than a few words to the second half of the program, Kris Swanberg’s Empire Builder. I hadn’t seen the movie yet, though I’ve caught up with it since. Compared with Silver Bullets, which screens before it, Empire is a less confrontational work, but it may be as pessimistic. A minimalist critique of social conformism, it reminded me a bit of Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? , a deadpan black comedy codirected by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1970. (Coincidentally, Bullets reminds me a bit of Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore (1971) in its unflattering portrait of a low-budget film set.) J.R. Jones wrote of Herr R., “In almost every key scene, the chattering characters become white noise as we focus on the silent sufferer in the room.” Empire operates in a similar fashion to illustrate the emptiness of a young, well-to-do housewife played by Kate Lyn Sheil.