Pamela De Graff (LittleMissBloodAndGuts)Burbank
Pamela's Recent Reviews
RESOLUTION (2012) independent
WRITTEN BY: Justin Benson
DIRECTED BY: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
FEATURING: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran, Zahn McClarnon, Bill Oberst Jr., Kurt David Anderson, Emily Montague
GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER
TAGS: genre-bender; puzzler, drama, mystery, occult, horror
PLOT: In this tense micro-budget thriller, a young man tries to bring his friend back to reality, only to find that "reality" is not just open to interpretation, but malleable and ever-changing. In fact, the pair's reality might not even be their own.
COMMENTS: In spite of some worn cliches -mysterious found footage, missing researchers, and a mystic medicine cabin obligatorily set on an Indian reservation, with Resolution, independent writer/director Justin Benson brings us a breath of fresh air. The film is technically adept on its small budget, and presents a real genre-bender of a plot. Resolution builds slowly as a crime drama, becomes a psychological suspension, then morphs into a puzzler riddled with paradoxes. It releases in a brief climax of occult horror.
In the story, yuppie Michael (Peter Cilella) travels to a remote squatters' shack, where his addict friend Chris (Vinny Curran), bristling with firearms and contraband, has holed up, resolved to kill himself with drugs. Michael restrains Chris, and forces him to withdraw "cold-turkey" over the course of a week.
A progression of weirdos make the scene. Chris's low-life cohorts (Kurt David Anderson and Kyler Meacham) drop in, demanding drugs. A tightly-wired Native American property owner (Zahn McClarnon) and his menacing gang show up to evict the occupants. A scheming real estate developer (Josh Higgins) creeps in, mistaking Michael and Chris for the deed-holders, and a doomsday religious cult is engaging in shenanigans a little too nearby for comfort.
Michael strives to maintain control over the situation to buy enough time to get Chris straightened out, and back to civilization and rehab. Despite the threat posed by oddball interlopers, the real tension is yet to come.
Someone...or some THING is watching -and recording everything Michael and Chris do. But how? The surveillance indicates a presence that looms closer and closer, yet Michael can't detect the observer.
Looking for clues, Micheal discovers strange footage shot by a missing anthropology team, then locates a laconic neighbor, Bryon (Bill Oberst Jr.), with an uncomfortably unorthodox existential philosophy. From here the story plunges into perplexing paradoxes. Chris's sleazy drug buddies and the landowner converge for a showdown. Mind-bending events knock Mike and Chris away from objective reality and any sense of control over their destinies.
Resolution is talky, but intriguing. The long-winded plot is better suited for an hour short. Aside from establishing an initial setting and circumstances, the first half of the film doesn't bear vital relation to the engaging concepts of the second. It's still pretty good. Unsettling developments keep us watching. Plot twists reveal a honeycomb of passages down which to venture. Rather than choose one of them and proceed, the filmmakers offer a twisted experience based on the fact that these alternate routes exist.
Part of the fun of Resolution is thinking about the various possibilities and what they mean. In our minds, we DO pursue them, trying to predict the outcome, but just when we think we know what's going to happen, Resolution throws us a new twist. Throughout it all ripples a nerve-jarring undercurrent of menace, indeterminate, and incipient. Mike and Chris's safe return to the outside world is increasingly unfeasible.
There's some subtle cinematic artistry in Resolution which reinforces the exposition. In the scene in which Michael is conversing with Byron, Byron discusses his views about narrative and story. As he explains to Michael, Byron holds a mirror. At first, the mirror is angled so that Micheal's reflection blends with Byron's face. The effect is to project Byron and Micheal as melded together, depicting a dual entity. But Michael cannot see it. Only we can see it.
Byron angles the mirror so that we see another mirror on the wall behind Michael, producing the illusion of endless repetition. It illustrates the concept of how a painter records a scene. There is the scene, and the painter painting it. But there is a larger scene. For us to see the painter painting the scene, there must be another painter, painting the painter painting the scene... and so on to infinity. This is a pivotal moment in the film. Resolution carries distinct, though not fully developed sub-themes about the evolution and structure of folklore, myth and story, and these are tied into the paradoxes.
Filmed in a half-completed lodge under construction, illuminated by hook lamps, and without background music, intimate camerawork increases a sense of realism, almost like seeing a documentary. The technique is effective because Resolution turns out to be all about deconstruction and the plastic nature of reality. By the time we realize this, we've accepted the actuality of what's transpired, only to have the drop sheet yanked out from under our feet.
ALYCE KILLS (2011) independent
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: Jay Lee
FEATURING: Jade Dornfeld, Tamara Feldman, James Duval, Eddie Rouse, Larry Cedar
GENRE: THRILLER, NON-SUPERNATURAL HORROR
TAGS: rape, dismemberment
PLOT: In this pointless, yet engaging psycho-thriller, a young woman unintentionally destroys her best friend while on drugs, then spirals into anti-social behavior, dragging her acquaintances into the dark morass of her twisted psyche.
COMMENTS: With a cursory acknowledgment of the Lewis Carrol tale, Alyce is as much an entry-level clerical answer to the Fortune 500 American Psycho (2000), as it is a morbid odyssey of self discov- uh, make that self-destruction. Like a high-speed bullet train to Hell, Alyce Kills is novel, slick, and exciting, but it doesn't take us where we want to go.
Young, pert Alyce (Jade Dornfeld) toils away in a depressing corporate cubicle for a shrewish boss at a thankless job. After work she trudges home to her cramped apartment to freshen up before some much needed steam-venting at dingy nightclubs. It's not much of a life, but Alyce has her friend Danielle (Rena Owen), an alpha female who provides Alyce with a framework of guidance upon which follower Alyce proves to be reliant.
When Alyce and Danielle take the Generation X drug "ecstasy," Danielle sexually leads on Alyce. It comes out that Alyce has a crush on Danielle who then rejects her.
Is it an accident then when Alyce "accidentally" pushes her off the roof a short while later? It's not clear whether Alyce is vindictive and a little crazy, or merely reckless, and irresponsible. Danielle stands on the ledge, tempting fate, Alyce mock-pushes her. Alyce is playing a game and behaves as if she doesn't intend the result -Danielle's dive to the pavement. But Alyce definitely intends to make contact, and under the circumstances it's no surprise when Danielle plunges to her doom.
Despite that it led to tragedy, Alyce decides she likes ecstasy and trades sex for the drug from a repulsive dealer. Under the influence of the psychedelic, Alyce locks herself in her apartment for marathon-length trips during which she perpetually masturbates to violent videos. Conniving to obfuscate her complicity in Danielle's misfortune leads Alyce to take increasing risks until she pulls out all the stops. Traipsing across an urban landscape of bizarre characters, settings and situations, Alyce taunts the family of her victim, and eventually conspires bloody murder against those who annoy and inconvenience her.
Having now lost Danielle's boundary-defining structure, Alyce's fragile veneer of sanity falls away like an uncoupled caboose from a speeding express. Her locomotive throttle is wide open and there's no engineer in the cab. Alyce resolves to take charge of her own life, but her brand of self-assertive, feminist "empowerment" is to embark upon a self-indulgent journey of risky behavior. Yet it's more like a spree, and it degenerates into a maelstrom of self destruction, dragging those closest to her along for a hell-ride on her crazy train.
The theme of women scheming against men has been around at least since ancient Greece. From Aristophanes' Lysistrata, to the Biblical Eve convincing Adam to bite the proverbial apple, we've seen versions of the femme fatale in various literary incarnations through the ages. A few include Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, and Cleopatra, Daniel Defoe's opportunistic Moll Flanders, Oliver Goldsmith's lighthearted, scheming, Katie Hardcastle in his 1773 play, She Stoops To Conquer, the conniving Matilda in Matthew Gregory's 1796 supernatural Gothic novel The Monk: A Romance, and the malevolent man-hater, Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.
Whereas these feminine plotters employed cunning and sexual manipulation to achieve their aims, their modern counterparts resort to brute force. The concept of the fairer sex outwitting men has evolved into the myth of womens' domination over men, and convoluted orchestrations have given way to the karate kicks and machine guns used by characters such as secret agent Emma Peel (Diana Rigg; Uma Thurman in the 1998 film version) in BBC's The Avengers, to Max Guevera (Jessica Alba) in TV's Dark Angel, and La Femme Nikita (Anne Parillaud; Bridget Fonda in the US remake). The latest trend has dark-psyched vixens engaging in just plain psychopathic killing sprees.
Alyce's quirky, but undeveloped character may be inspired by the leads in May (2002), and Neighbor (2009), two similar stories about loner hellcats who indulge their necrophilic and cannibalistic urges through acts of violence. Yet May (Angela Bettis), the film's namesake, commits her violence via a misguided search for an similarly misfit mate. In Neighbor, "The Girl," (America Olivo) thrill-kills for the sheer sadistic pleasure of it, making a living by robbing her victims and using their homes like motels.
Alyce however, lacks any sensible or even cognizant motivation at all. Her deeds defy logic, her methods are unsound, and Alyce's lack of planning is sure to bring her only more trouble. We're not sure if even she understands her actions. This makes her singularly one dimensional.
It's a profound disappointment, too. What's engrossing about Alyce's sexy character is not what she does, but the wry way she does it with her distinctively iconoclastic demeanor. It's not the revulsion inherent to her wanton acts of sex and violence that catches our attention, but the manner in which her smug, witty bearing holds out the promise of a satisfying payoff. We keep waiting to tumble into an epiphany of insight into her disturbed psyche, or at least some commentary about human nature or revenge. It never happens, and we're left feeling like the lone passenger on a runaway train with no destination in sight, and no emergency pull-cord to stop the projector.
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