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168. MR. NOBODY (2009)

“Oh, my God, and when you got up in the morning, there was the sun in the same position you saw it the day before—beginning to rise from the graveyard back of the street, as though its nightly custodians were the fleshless dead—seen through the town’s invariable smoke haze, it was a ruddy biscuit, round and red, when it just might as well have been square or shaped like a worm—anything might have been anything else and had just as much meaning to it…”–Tennessee Williams, The Malediction

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Jared Leto, Toby Regbo, Sarah Polley, Natasha Little, Rhys Ifans, , Diane Kruger, Linh Dan Pham

PLOT: In 2092, after all disease has been conquered through cellular regeneration technology, 119-year old Nemo Nobody is the last mortal man left in the world. He recounts his life story to a psychiatrist and a reporter, but his memories are wildly inconsistent and incompatible, and at times fantastic and impossible. In his confused recollections he is married to three different women, with multiple outcomes depending on choices that he makes in the course of his life; but which is his real story?

Still from Mr.  Nobody (2009) BACKGROUND:

  • The genesis of this story came from Jaco Van Dormael’s 1982 short film “È pericoloso sporgersi,” about a boy who must make an “impossible” choice between living with his mother or with his father.
  • According to Van Dormael the script took seven years to write, working about five and a half hours a day, every day.
  • Van Dormael published the Mr. Nobodoy screenplay (in French) in 2006, one year before production began and three years before the film was completed.
  • Despite being made in 2009, the movie was not released in the U.S. until 2013, and then only in an attempt to capitalize on the Oscar buzz surrounding Jared Leto’s performance in Dallas Buyers Club.
  • Leto temporarily retired from acting after Mr. Nobody, spending the next four years focusing on his band Thirty Seconds to Mars.
  • Mr. Nobody’s first name, Nemo, means “nobody” in Latin.
  • The movie is full of visual tricks and illusions, some of which are so subtle that they’re easy to miss. For example, watch for a scene where Nemo enters a bathroom then focuses on his own image in a mirror. When he turns around and the camera follows him back out of the room, we now see the perspective as if we had passed through the mirror; the reflection seamlessly swaps places with the real world.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Mr. Nobody‘s essential image is of branching, criss-crossing railroad tracks; if you want something with a little more surreal zip, however, check out the scenes of a fleet of helicopters delivering slices of ocean, slowly lowering them into place on the horizon.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Essentially an experimental narrative film disguised as a big-budget science fiction extravaganza, Mr. Nobody, an epic fantasia in which the protagonist lives a dozen different lives and a dozen different realities, was doomed to be a cult film from its inception. Even with a healthy dose of romantic sentimentality and whimsy a la , it is far too rare and peculiar a dish for mainstream tastes. The opening is confusing, the moral ambiguous, and reality won’t sit still; it’s got unicorns, godlike children, helicopters delivering the ocean, a future world where everyone has their own genetic pig and psychiatrists are known by their facial tattoos, and a malformed sub-reality where everyone wears argyle sweaters. It’s unique, unforgettable, and utterly marvelous.


Original trailer for Mr Nobody

COMMENTS: One of the enigmatic Nemo Nobody’s many possible past identities is a TV science lecturer who explains such esoteric concepts as Continue reading 168. MR. NOBODY (2009)

366 UNDERGOUND: ACID HEAD: THE BUZZARD NUTS COUNTY SLAUGHTER (2011)

Beware

DIRECTED BY: Tony “Tex” Watt

FEATURING: , Tony “Tex” Watt, Lana Tailor

PLOT: A teenage goth girl meanders around the New Jersey suburbs killing people and allegedly eating them. Sometimes. But there are scumbags, strippers, prostitutes, F.B.I. investigators, mafiosos, and mafioso’s children who get more screen time than the titular character. Also, breasts.

Acid Head
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s unequivocally terrible, which overshadows any weirdness the filmmakers manage to conjure up from the depths of their eye-rolling sexual deviancy. If GWAR and Ween collaborated on an album that was turned into a film, it would be this one, although, unlike Acid Head, that film surely would not be 155 minutes, cast with boorish amateurs, and shot through the most annoying faux-grindhouse filter of all time.

COMMENTS: Tony “Tex” Watt finally answers the question, “should watching a movie feel like a punishment?” with his latest directorial effort, Acid Head: The Buzzard Nuts County Slaughter. This guerrilla warfare-style film has a brazen, almost felonious contempt for the audience. The interminably long opening credit sequence involving monotonous driving, out-of-place sound effects, and a song so forgettable I forgot who I was during the chorus sets an unhealthy precedent of open hostility towards anyone who dares to watch. The gargantuan running time could have serviced two complete films, but somehow it houses around five, all of them claiming to be the same movie, and all of them, infuriatingly, incomplete. It’s a slasher flick, kinda. It’s also an outlaw buddy comedy, if comedy was spelled “zzzzzzz”. There’s a grindhouse sleaze movie in here, a mafia drama, and a sex farce involving the FBI for good measure. It’s all over the map, nothing makes sense, and I suspect it’s not supposed to. It’s an exercise in hatred for the audience the likes of which have not been seen since Thierry Zeno’s Wedding Trough. How much does Acid Head hate its audience? There is an intermission—not in the middle, mind you, but rather near the end of this behemoth—entitled “The 10-Minute Beach Slut Intermission.” It features the main draw of this production, Playboy model Lana Tailor, and another attractive cast member loafing around the beach for ten minutes, accompanied by two grimy dimwits, doing nowhere-near-the-vicinity-of-sexy things. Ten excruciating minutes. It even throws up a timer on the screen, so you can count the 840 seconds of life that slips away during this torturous and tepid ordeal; as if we had to be reminded of how mind-meltingly tedious this is. These aren’t 10 regular minutes; these are treadmill minutes, these are underwater minutes. But this is not to take away from the ineptitude and ennui of the other 145 minutes. After all, once the zany sound effects settle into predictable patterns, the innuendo starts to register as vaguely erogenous wallpaper, and the wig-heavy costumes all begin to look the same, Acid Head creates the worst kind of movie environment, which is of course a boring one. It is an excuse to talk about bewbs on camera and play at DIY horror for a cast and crew with tons of vision but zero aptitude. It is an enigma of purpose, like a crop circle or a platypus. And ultimately, it is a waste of time for everyone concerned.

I recommend Acid Head to anyone who loves nothing, and anybody who just can’t get enough self-loathing packed into a 24-hour day.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…seems to go out of its way to confound and drive crazy anyone who comes to it expecting good acting or anything more than a series of aimlessly rambling scenes and random exploitation homages that only ever occasionally connect up into a plot.”–Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film review (DVD)

CAPSULE: FANTASIA 2000 (1999)

DIRECTORS: James Algar, Gaetan Brizzi, Paul Brizzi, Francis Glebas, Eric Goldberg, Don Hahn, Pixote Hunt

CAST: James Levine (conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), plus hosts James Earl Jones, Quincy Jones, Angela Lansbury, Bette Midler, Steve Martin, Penn and Teller, and Itzhak Perlman

PLOT: Like the original Fantasia (1940), Fantasia 2000 has no overarching plot. Instead, the film presents a series of short subjects “illustrating” classical compositions by such masters as Igor Stravinsky, George Gershwin and Ottorino Respighi.

Still from Fantasia 2000 (1999)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This semi-sequel lacks the edge of the first Fantasia’s sinister “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence (the one with the giant demon). Also, this later Fantasia is unlikely to attract the kind of audience that went to the late 1960’s re-issue of the first film while under the influence. After all, the original Fantasia received the Harvard Lampoon’s 1968 “OhGodOhGodOhGodTheLightsTheSoundsTheColors” award, which it shared with Yellow Submarine and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

COMMENTS: While lacking the innovative qualities of its predecessor, which was one of the first–if not the first–films recorded in multichannel sound, Fantasia 2000 is a (much) shorter, faster and more kid-friendly variation on the original, all of which does not necessarily make it better. Nevertheless, the film is both amusing, and, during the Stravinsky and Respighi sequences, surprisingly stirring.

Fantasia 2000 begins with Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5 in C Minor” being portrayed in abstract fashion with lots of Origami-style butterflies fluttering across the screen. This sequence is obviously meant to recall the original Fantasia’s opening: an impressionistic rendering of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”, which was the dullest scene in either movie. Things perk up considerably after that, as Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” is turned into a touching computer-animated tale of humpback whales. Then comes a funny take on Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, animated in the style of legendary New York caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. This is followed by another digital segment: Shostakovich’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in F. Major”, now rendered as a somewhat lackluster adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier.” Next up is a very brief bit from Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Carnival of the Animals, Finale”, which here becomes a watercolor-painted sequence featuring pink flamingos playing with a yo-yo. One gets the feeling that this is supposed to be reminiscent of the 1940 original’s version of “Dance of the Hours,” with its immortal ballet-dancing hippos and ostriches, but if that is the case, then the earlier film’s anthropomorphic gags are far more memorable. There’s more anthropomorphism to come, as “Carnival of the Animals” is followed by a reprise of Paul Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” This is simply the classic sequence from the original Fantasia edited in here: Mickey Mouse, thinking himself a great wizard, must fend off an army of living brooms. As it was it the best scene in the original, this is the best sequence in the second one, probably because it’s the only segment that illustrates what the composer was actually writing about. Donald Duck then gets equal time, as it were, by starring in Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.” This is not a story about Donald’s graduation, but a retelling of “Noah’s Ark” with Donald and Daisy standing in for Noah, and it’s amusing enough. The film’s finale is a memorable take on Igor Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite,” as a woodland sprite brings the spirit of spring to the forest, only to be vanquished by the Firebird spirit, who lives in a volcano. But this is Disney, so the sprite rises again like the phoenix. Although this is arguably the most lavishly animated segment in Fantasia 2000, some of the imagery is suspiciously reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 film Princess Mononoke, as well as the forest fire in Disney’s own 1942 Bambi (complete with woodland creatures). Nevertheless, this is a fine note for the film to go out on.

Nothing in Fantasia 2000 is the slightest bit weird, but it is all gorgeously animated and quite entertaining. Compared to its legendary, if sometimes ponderous, 1940 predecessor, however, Fantasia 2000 does seem a bit lightweight.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“If it’s a head trip you’re looking for in the millennial version of Walt Disney’s ‘Fantasia,’ you’ll have to wait for the grand finale, in which the world appears to come to an end, then suddenly bursts to life again… [it] often has the feel of a giant corporate promotion…”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week, Scott Sentinella takes a look at Fantasia 2000, the belated (for 59 years!) sequel to the fabulous 1940 original, while Eric Young tackles Acid Head: The Buzzard Nuts County Slaughter, the latest 2+ hour B-movie marathon from the indefatigable Alfred will head back West for a look at Charlton Heston’s portrayal of the illiterate title cowpoke in 1968′s Will Penny, and we’ll dip into the reader-suggested review for Mr. Nobody (2009), the long-awaited speculative sci-fi drama from  about the last mortal man on Earth and his faulty memories.

Speaking of faulty memories, one of our main sources for the bizarre phrases we examine in our weekly survey of the Weirdest Search Terms of the Week comes from people looking in vain to find those mangled movie memories from their youth. For example, we noticed someone looking for “movie vintage hitler’s people abuse in an asylum.” Another searched for “movie with black teen with backpack walking into trees,” which sounds to us like they might have been thinking of an episode of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” rather than a movie per se. The cheapskate looking for “free movie of destroy a woman’s body by a man” probably intended to turn up something unspeakably horrifying, but the search just sounds weird instead. Our official winner of the Weirdest Search Term of the Week, however, is “low bugged sex british movie lists.” Of all the sex movies out there, no one denies that the low-bugged ones are the weirdest, and no one does them better than the British.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long and ever-growing reader-suggested review queue currently stands: Mr. Nobody (next week!); Celine and Julie Go Boating; Abnormal: The Sinema of Nick Zedd; Nightdreams; Rubin & Ed; The Real McCoy; Themroc; Candy (1968); Pink Flamingos; Northfork; The Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

SATURDAY SHORT: MOMPELAAR (2008)

After being scolded by his transgendered mother, mumbling Lubbert goes out to the woods to visit his treasure trove of plastic bags filled with rotting objects. The darkly humorous plot only gets more bizarre from there.

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 4/10/2014

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available on the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Only Lovers Left Alive: s latest tackles vampires in love; with Tom Hiddleston and  (as vampires named “Adam” and “Eve”) and in a rare villainous role. It seems like we’ve been waiting forever for this one to come to theaters. Only Lovers Left Alive official site.

IN DEVELOPMENT:

Glilgamesh (post-production, estimated release November 2014): An expedition accidentally releases Innana, the Sumerian goddess of lust. The U.S. government plans to use the divinity as a weapon of mass destruction, while Communists plot a coup, and immortal Gilgamesh decides whether to intervene. With a plot like that it could be weird. From the writer/director of Scrooge in the Hood. No official page but updates appear on production company Boston Film Family’s Facebook page.

Way Down in Chinatown (2013, seeking distribution): A playwright and a theater director flee to a sexually surreal underground world to escape the apocalypse. I think. There’s no question this one will be weird. Way Down in Chinatown official site.

NEW ON DVD:

Apocalypse Kiss (2014): On the eve of a future apocalypse, a miffed serial killer assists a detective in tracking down a thrill-killing couple whose sloppy murders are being falsely attributed to him. plays the President in a cameo. Buy Apocalypse Kiss.

A Field in England (2013): Read our review! Historically, far too few psychedelic freakout movies have been set in 17th century England; ‘s latest seeks to rectify that oversight. Buy A Field in England.

I Am Divine (2013): A documentary on the world’s favorite 300-pound copraphagiac transvestite, Harris Glenn Milstead, better known as . Likely to be an un-weird doc on a very weird guy. Buy I Am Divine.

The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012): A filmmaker searches for his missing transvestite friend in Macao and uncovers a shadowy conspiracy. The description makes it sound like your typical gay-interest sci-fi documentary/noir hybrid. Buy The Last Time I Saw Macao.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

A Field in England (2013): See description in DVD above. Buy A Field in England [Blu-ray].

FREE MOVIES ON CRACKLE:

Run Lola Run (1998): Read the Certified Weird entry! We’re not crazy about the idea of watching movies with commercials—especially this one, which depends on relentless momentum for its effect—but free is free. Not the ideal way to see Lola for the first time, but maybe a good chance to catch up with her. Watch Run Lola Run free on Crackle.

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

DIFFERENT DRUM (2014) AND LUCKY (2014)

Two 2014 independent films. Lucky is available for viewing in its entirety below.

I could not help but think of something the Dali Lama recently said as I watched Kevin L. Chenault’s Different Drum (2014): “The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kind.”

Chenault is a storyteller who engages us with a slice of life involving Tod (Zach Zint), an unemployed, flat-broke musician, and his pregnant ex-girlfriend Lydia (Isabella DeVoy). Chenault’s story is not about successful people. It is a story about storytellers and lovers. Tod and Lydia are not lovers per se, at least, not in the reductionist way we tend to superficially understand the term. Tod is trying to sell his comic book collection. Alas, it turns out they are not worth anything. Lydia almost gets her eye poked out via a stupid accident with a tree branch because, yes, we have stupid accidents. She’s pregnant, too. No explanation required. She remains pregnant and keeps her eye patch, as she should. We do not always need conclusions and often, as is the case here, a summary would have diminished this story and rendered it vapid.

Tod and Lydia are on a road trip from South Dakota to Indiana to attend a family wedding. The journey zigzags, seemingly aimlessly, the way our stories sometimes do, with a little petty larceny along the way (minus judgmental baggage). George Romero’s once horrific Night of the Living Dead (1968) plays as motel background fodder, now as innocuous as a sing-along to Tears for Fears.

Somewhere along the road, our two lovers are going to find something amidst Elvis impersonators and cordial muggers, authentic eccentrics who never strain to be sure we’re aware of their eccentricities. What Tod and Lydia find is not going to be defined for us, or for them, because things are rarely defined. Yet, we sense an inexplicable purpose to this promenade.

Contemporary independent films, by and large, have ceased to be authentically independent: instead of offering an emotionally alternative aesthetic experience, the usual route they take is to imitate Hollywood, on a much smaller scale. Naturally, that defeats the purpose of independent film, which is what makes Chenault’s film refreshing. He is telling his own story, his own way, with the help of two very good, understated first time actors, and lucid cinematography by Eddy Scully. We are drawn into a sensuous, humanistic road trip, for no apparent reason other than our desperate need for more stories like this.

 is working on his next feature film, Three Tears On Bloodstained Flesh. Taking an eight hour break from that project, Bilinski participated in an event from the Owensboro, Ky film series, “Unscripted: An Indie Film Xperience.” Two scripts were chosen from a screenplay contest. One of the winning scripts, Lucky, written by Todd Martin, and handed to Bilinski, who shot the eight minute film in eight hours on the same library floor where the film series was screened. With less than a day to film and only two cast members, Bilinski described the experience as “a hectic, fun, run-and-gun shoot.”

This horror short opens with Louisa Torres engaged in studious research when she’s rudely interrupted by Dillon Schueller. Rather than create another monotonous imitation, Lucky pays homage to a genre without succumbing to sloppy fandom. It takes shrewd and artful self-confidence to know the difference between the two; fortunately, Bilinski does, and he is helped considerably by Torres comfortably eating up the scenery in an energetic role. A strong female protagonist has been a consistent Bilinski trademark and Schueller, while serviceable, does not stand a comparative chance in or out of character against this lady.

Bilinski is a one of the more talented directors in the current indie crop and he doesn’t disappoint. As expected, he pulls Lucky off with an astute sense of composition and a devotion to craftsmanship. The high point of the film is Bilinski’s small nod to John Landis’ famous “Thriller” video, with Torres nailing the choreography (without advertising that she is doing so). Bilinski balances his blue-collar approach to filmmaking with intelligence and professionalism, regardless of constraints and budget limitations. While there may be a plethora of blue-collar filmmakers in the independent scene, all too often that approach can (and usually does) short shrift perceptive aesthetics. Such is not the case with Chenault or Bilinski, and that is doubly refreshing.

Three Tears On Bloodstained Flesh will be covered on this site at a later date. 

167. RUN LOLA RUN (1998)

Lola rennt

“One of the big problems of the movie for me was always that I thought, how can we make the repetition idea become something spectacular and exciting, and not make it feel like ‘oh my God, it’s starting again, how boring.’ So this was really a big task for me, not losing the concentration of the audience and really having them care for what happens again and again. So we tried to really make it very exciting and very strange and different…”–Tom Tykwer, Run Lola Run DVD commentary

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, Herbert Knaup, Nina Petri

PLOT: Lola’s boyfriend calls her on the phone: he needs 100,000 Deutschmarks in twenty minutes to pay off a gangster, or he’s going to be killed. Lola has no money and no transportation, but she formulates a plan in a split second, and takes off running. She arrives too late and the story ends in tragedy; but fortunately, she gets a do-over.

Still from Run Lola Run (1998)
BACKGROUND:

  • Lola‘s narrative structure is almost identical to Krzysztof Kieślowski’s 1981 film Blind Chance.
  • The film’s first epigram is a famous quote from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding.” The second quotation, “Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel” (“after the game is before the game”) is from World Cup champion coach Sepp Herberger.
  • This fast-paced film contains 1581 cuts, averaging out to 2.7 seconds per shot.
  • Lola rennt swept the major categories at the 1999 German Film Awards, with the notable exception of Best Actress—Franka Potente was not even nominated. It won around twenty other awards from international critics associations, but was not nominated for an Academy Award.
  • Voted #86 on Empire’s List of the 100 Best Films Of World Cinema.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Lola, running. Writer/director Tom Tykwer himself has said that the genesis of the film came from an image that sprang to his mind of a woman running through the streets; he constructed a scenario around the picture in his mind’s eye to explain where this vision was racing to. Since we’re interested in weirdness, we’ll focus on one specific iteration of the recurring image of Lola running: when she dashes out of her parents’ home, the camera circles around her mother’s room to catch a television set, where a cartoon version of Lola is flying down the spiral staircase.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Run Lola Run has the hip surreality of a music video. Stylized within a heartbeat of its life, Lola is as proudly and defiantly artificial as Franka Potente’s Strawberry-Shortcake-with-her-head-on-fire dye job.


Original trailer for Run Lola Run

COMMENTS: “Foreign movies come off really weird,” headlines one Amazon reviewer, who confesses that he got annoyed watching the opening and Continue reading 167. RUN LOLA RUN (1998)

CAPSULE: BAD MILO (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Jacob Vaughan

FEATURING: , , Gillian Jacobs, Stephen Root, Patrick Warburton, Mary Kay Place, Toby Huss

PLOT: An accountant finds that his searing intestinal pains come from a monster that lives in his lower digestive tract, who emerges from his bowels to kill whatever is causing him undue stress in his life.

Still from Bad Milo (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Playing like a cross between a  splatter goof and The Brood remade as a comedy, Milo has minor midnight movie aspirations, but lacks the gut impact to become one of the top weird movies of all time.

COMMENTS: For a movie about a demon that lives in an accountant’s colon and emerges to slay his enemies, Bad Milo isn’t nearly as much of an exercise in bad taste as you might think. There’s only one scene of spraying fecal matter, and it’s rather light, almost a mist. There’s more blood than poop, but Milo isn’t a gorefest by horror movie standards, either. The movie’s grossest moments are all left up to your imagination, suggested only by Ken Marino’s labored grunts. Whether this modicum of restraint constitutes a relief or a disappointment is up to you, but the odd fact is that Milo the movie ends as surprisingly good-natured as Milo the killer puppet is disarmingly cute. Ray Romano-lookalike Marino plays accountant Duncan as a put-upon pushover who gradually grows a pair when forced to defend his family from his own intestinal impulses. Marino is ably supported by a familiar cast of character actors whose presence give the movie a polished and professional feel (again, whether “polished and professional” is what you want from your butt-monster movie may be a matter of personal taste). Peter Stormare, as a disheveled, New Age-y hypnotherapist (“witch doctor!,” accuses his parrot) is the movie’s quirkiest creation. Mary Kay Place amuses as Duncan’s cradle-robbing mom who gives her son T.M.I. about her S&M lifestyle. Stephen Root plays a pothead whose laid back attitude proves a constant struggle for him, while Patrick Warburton proves a natural as a genially sociopathic middle manager. For the most part, the script’s humor emerges easily from the absurd premise and capable performances, and rarely feels strained.

Milo‘s unexpectedly layered psychology involves learning to cope with buried neuroses rather than letting them become impacted, paternal abandonment issues, and, most importantly, a fear of parenthood angle. Duncan may explicitly deny that the monster up his butt is a metaphor, but the movie begs to differ. And that very fact may hurt Milo with it’s target audience: by being more thoughtful and probing than the usual movie about butt-monsters, it passes up a lot of scatological opportunities, which may explain why it failed to wow the midnight movie crowds. This is a case where the movie might benefit from a less tasteful approach.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…its creators usually know when to let their inherently insane ideas speak for themselves.”–Simon Abrams, RogerEbert.com (contemporaneous)

READER RECOMMENDATION: HELLEVATOR (2004)

Reader recommendation by James Harben

Gusha no bindume; AKA Hellevator: The Bottled Fools

DIRECTED BY: Hiroki Yamaguchi

FEATURING: Luchino Fujisaki, Yoshiichi Kawada, Ryôsuke Koshiba

PLOT: A dystopian future civilization lives in a vast underground complex where each floor represents a different part of society, from housing and schooling up to more sinister departments, culminating in the mysterious and never visited “top floor” that is implied to be both above-ground and possibly mythical. A schoolgirl (it’s Japanese after all) with psychic powers (it’s Japanese after all) tries to flee aboard an elevator, but in a world that seems to consist entirely of either up or down, where can she escape to?

Still from Hellevator (2004)
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Hellevator is a quite effective ‘trapped-in-a-room’ style movie, one that plays with the conventions of the genre. Working on the theory that what you are shown has far greater effect than what you are told, Hiroki Yamaguchi provides the viewer little direct knowledge or understanding of what this world might be. Clearly subterranean, it’s grimy and oppressively lit. The camera rarely leaves the elevator. The movie is populated by a cast of relatable stereotypes from current and past cultures: the police look like the SS, the attendant is a dedicated servant in a fetishized uniform, not to mention the standard quota of moody and sullen antiheroes wearing sunglasses indoors and the heroic schoolgirl protagonist. Imagine a Japanese  working on a budget.

COMMENTS: Hellevator never gives you the full details of what’s going on in the story, but there is enough suitably engaging exposition that the viewer is never left so confused that they become disconnected from the narrative. What is essentially a straight journey, up, is complicated by the arrival of prisoners from the penal colony floor, who have plans of their own re: their continued incarceration. Each of the characters have their own unfolding back story and a part to play in the greater continuity. A little online research finds comparisons to Cube and Brazil, and whereas the latter certainly applies—‘s dystopia is clearly an influence in both Hellevator‘s visuals and in its depiction of a society collapsing into the last stages of decline—the Cube comparison is misleading. This film doesn’t focus on the fact that people are trapped in an elevator, but instead uses it for a framing device: in flashback, we do see other parts of the complex.

Characterization is the key here, and against the main backdrop of the elevator and its confines we see a wide range of people and observe how they try to make their lives work in such an oppressive environment. The near silent elevator steward delivers an amazing performance as someone totally dedicated to his job, and to his place within the societal order. The convicts are both spectacular despite being quite different personas with differing motivations.

Ultimately, Hellevator leaves the viewer with as many questions as it does answers, but with no lack of satisfaction regarding the narrative. The performances are largely excellent; though quite over the top, they fit well with the dense, claustrophobic aesthetic of the film. There is enough linearity to the events that, as much as the viewer might want to know more about what they have seen, the time spent viewing is a satisfying ride that captures the imagination and attention without ever feeling staid or predictable.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a stylish and inventive mix of delirium that surpasses most multi-million dollar efforts.. Picture Hitchcock’s Lifeboat through the eyes of Terry Gilliam with the visceral mean streak of Takashi Miike.”–Dread Central (DVD)

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