DIRECTED BY: John R. Hand
FEATURING: Jeremy Hosbein, Amanda Edington
PLOT: A survivor of the apocalypse is conflicted about his mother, who is addicted to a
black fluid that keeps her eternally young but causes disorientation and scarring.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Scars of Youth is a beautifully lensed film, filled with dreamlike images and montages. Although not impenetrable, the tale comes across mysterious and weird, thanks to the oblique, overwhelmingly visual storytelling. Unfortunately, all this beauty pads a thin and unengaging storyline.
COMMENTS: Scars of Youth is easy to critique. It’s visually and sonically entrancing, on its own terms and even more so when you consider the low budget and lack of any special effects. On the other hand, the story is slow, yet hard to follow, and what we do discern of the tale doesn’t add up to very much. The audio in some of the necessary background exposition is deliberately distorted in an attempt to create atmosphere that creates frustration instead. The performances are substandard throughout; the amateur actors can’t convey complex emotions, and the third main character—a sort of adventurer who smuggles immortality fluid past the checkpoints of an unseen civilization to our hero—sports an unnatural laugh that is particularly off-putting. Almost every scene is drawn out for far too long, with actors staring off into space with melancholy expressions or wandering around state parks, disconsolately staring at wire fences. These elements of pure mood can’t take the place of dialogue or action. There is full-frontal nudity to liven things up, but the mother-son incest subtext, intended to provoke, is laid on far too thickly, with sexual symbolism slathered on with so little subtlety that it becomes embarrassing. On the plus side, the eerie ambient music is a highlight, and the photography is especially beautiful and far more professional than the narrative aspects of the film. There are beautiful shots of rippling ponds, closeups of bustling ant colonies, sun-dappled forests, and a consistent, painterly eye for color and composition. Blue filters are used on the interiors in the protagonist’s lonely room, which turn what would otherwise look like a garage with white sheets hung about for walls into something reasonably mystical. The black and white dream and flashback scenes are crisp and lovely; one brilliantly conceived sequence is grainy and filled with afterimages, as well as some of the film’s loveliest symbolism. These short, impressionistic moments are where Scars shines; they could fit comfortably as mood pieces inside a major production with more of a story to tell. They just can’t carry an entire film.
Hand’s earlier film, Frankensteins Bloody Nightmare, was a collage-like creation inspired by the visual styles of cheap and crazy 1970s drive-in horror movies. The look, sound and pace of Scars of Youth is, instead, a tribute to Tarkovsky‘s Stalker. Hand captures the general feel of the Russian minimalist master, but whereas the murky grindhouse visuals of Nightmare made the lack of locations, story and acting talent almost appropriate, the ultra-clean, professionally shot look of Scars of Youth highlights these deficiencies. Both films contain a few gorgeous images which, if they could be judged in isolation, would earn five star ratings; but, in both films we also get the feeling that we’re watching the work of a brilliant cinematographer and sensualist who has yet to find a meaningful story to tell. If Hand’s storytelling abilities ever catch up to the level of his technical skills, he’ll become the Stanley Kubrick of homemade videos.
A signed “limited edition” of Scars of Youth can be ordered directly from JRH films for $15.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY: