I had so much writing to do on Saturday that I scratched my evening screening, but I was determined to see Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children (you can read the synopsis of the previous day’s interview with Pedro Rivero here). The bad news was that the clouds rolled in and the rain started falling about five minutes before I needed to leave for my ten-minute, umbrella-free trot to the theater, with memories of being soaked in Thursday night’s downpour still fresh in my mind.
Fortunately, the skies agreed to merely sprinkle, but I wondered if the bad weather affected the turnout to Psychonauts‘s Canadian premiere. The press line was so short that I was well-within the velvet rope, and in the end the SGWU Hall was only about three-quarters full. (If anyone wonders why I always mention the length of the lines, I consider it an indication of general interest in the film, which might suggest something about a film’s eventual prospects for distribution).
Those who stayed away missed one of Fantasia’s great screenings, which ended with an enthusiastic round of applause and whistling from the animation-savvy audience. Psychonauts is based on the graphic novel of the same name, written by Alberto Vázquez and previously adapted into the award-winning short “Birdboy” in 2011 with co-director Pedro Rivero, who was in attendance, and who suggested to the audience before the screening that if they did not like the film, it was Vázquez’s fault. The humor was appreciated, but he needn’t have worried about the film’s reception. Psychonauts is an immersive spectacle, often very funny (comic relief being supplied mostly by the talking objects—a robot alarm clock, a piggy bank, and an inflatable duck), filled with overwhelming compassion for its subjects, and yes, a little weird.
The story involves an island of talking animals that exists in an almost post-apocalyptic state of ruin after an unspecified industrial accident wrecked the environment and the economy. Seeing no future at home, adolescent mouse Dinki decides to run away with two school chums, a sweet but psychotic rabbit who hears voices that tell her to hurt people and a bullied young fox. If possible, Dinki wants to take along her friend Birdboy, a feral, almost mythic presence who haunts the island and whom the (brutally corrupt) police have scapegoated as the source of the local drug trade. Birdboy is not a dealer, however, but an addict, compelled to swallow pills despite the fact that when he does he suffers nightmarish hallucinations which usually end with him being consumed by demons. The setting also features an underworld of rat gangs who inhabit the island’s massive rubbish heap and a spider who lives in a woman’s nose (a weird drug abuse metaphor that, as we learned in the post-movie screening, frightened the only six-year old in attendance). The art style features cute animals with big round heads (Birdboy’s resembles a skull) and is often expressionistic in style, with characters frequently depicted as a tiny presences dwarfed by dark landscapes.
It’s bleak, but the enormous empathy it generates for its lost children makes it almost a feel-good movie. Highly recommended, it’s also surreal enough to join She’s Allergic to Cats and The Greasy Strangler as the 2016 Fantasia Festival’s candidates for best weird movies in what’s turning out to be a memorable year in cinematic strangeness. Psychonauts has no North American distributor yet, but it does have a deal in place on France, which is encouraging. Stills, the trailer and clips can be found at Psychonauts‘s official website.
On to tomorrow, when a screening of the Shaw Brothers’s mad Holy Flame of the Martial World and the sci-fi porno pastiche In Search of the Ultra Sex are on the menu.