LIST CANDIDATE: THE OREGONIAN (2011)

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Calvin Reeder

FEATURING: , Robert Longstreet

PLOT: A young woman blacks out after an automobile accident on a lonely rural road, and

Still from The Oregonian (2011)

wakes up in a nearly deserted world inhabited only by silent women in red robes, truck drivers with a taste for omelets and gasoline cocktails, and man-sized green Muppets.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Though not entirely successful, it’s the most dedicatedly weird surrealism/horror hybrid to come down that lonely pike in quite some time.

COMMENTS: Before The Oregonian screening at the Dallas Film Festival, an almost apologetic writer/director Calvin Reeder came out and told the audience that, if they were expecting to see a horror film, they would probably be disappointed. He (accurately) described the movie as “a surrealist/experimental film with horror splashes” and confessed that previous screenings had seen “a lot of walkouts.” A crowd of about 30 people was on hand. Two people walked out about thirty minutes into the experience, during the “rainbow pee” sequence, a long bit where a bearded wheezing man stops by the side of the road to relieve himself, and his urine stream changes color from yellow to red to green to black. (Ironically, this was possibly The Oregonian‘s best and funniest sequence, and the walkouts left before the punchline). Three more patrons departed soon after, when, in response to the heroine’s desperate pleading for help, a man offers her omelet recipes instead. After that exodus, the remainder of the audience seemed to settle in to the movie’s groove, bursting into laughter when omelet man disposes of eggshells in the toilet and gasping when the shapeless green puppet (which looks like an experiment in splicing the genes of Kermit the Frog with the Cookie Monster) suddenly appears behind the protagonist. Still, not everyone could make it to the end; two more fled at about the one-hour mark, when the whole crew of accumulated weirdos (by this time the shapeless Muppet and omelet man have been joined by a gentle folksinger, a cigarette smoking man and a pair of robed women who don’t say anything but emit deafening screams) suddenly relocated the party from the Oregon woods to the Mojave desert, for no apparent reason. None of the audience members left because the content playing on the screen was offensive or shocking; they simply beat it at the point when their personal tolerance for non-narrative noodling reached its breaking point. The loud and deliberately abrasive, anxiety-provoking soundtrack—featuring eardrum piercing electronics, static, and ominous muddled whispering—did nothing to help keep butts in the seats (though this will probably be less of an issue on DVD when viewers can hit the mute button). With its blond female protagonist wandering around in a world where nothing makes sense and reality continually resets itself, the touchstone The Oregonian brings to mind is David Lynch’s Inland Empire. But, not surprisingly, The Oregonian lacks that film’s multiple textures, and can’t capture Lynch’s magical ability to create a tantalizing sense of false coherence that keeps the audience’s minds spinning its wheels for 90 minutes. Reeder tries to create a Lynchian wild goose chase through a flashback in the middle of the film: a dramatic scene from the moments before the Oregonian hit her head and lost her memory that introduces backstory in the form of a verbally abusive, paranoid lover. For a while we think the story might suddenly be going somewhere, but it’s soon back on its random track. For an episodic non-narrative film to succeed, it needs either a mock plot (even if that structure is a MacGuffin to hang weirdness on, like the spiritual journey up The Holy Mountain), or else nearly every sequence needs to be a standalone killer—pure weird gold. The Oregonian achieves neither goal; there’s too much dead weight and filler, with scenes of the bloodied-up Pulsipher wandering around the (admittedly sublime) forests of the Pacific Northwest while eerie music plays, meeting weirdos whose eccentricities are only sporadically creepy. Most of the visual tricks are fairly standard (superimposed images, quick edit montages), although the final effect where Pulsipher’s face boils is unique. Still, though The Oregonian is not a complete success, you may want to check it out for a few standout bizarrities—the aforementioned “rainbow pee” sequence, the initial discovery of the giant frog puppet, and to see what that puppet does with a certain corpse—and because so few features these days are willing to go 100% weird.

Director Reeder previously directed several well-received surreal/horror shorts and was named one of Filmmaker Magazines “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in 2007. Based on audience reaction and critical indifference, The Oregonian‘s prospects for theatrical distribution look dim. I would expect it to eventually land on DVD, however, particularly if Lindsay Pulsipher’s star continues to rise (she currently has a recurring role in the hit TV series “True Blood.”) In any event, The Oregonian is certainly the early leader for weirdest movie of 2011.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…starts off as an exercise in lead-footed David Lynch mimicry and heads downhill quickly. If it ever surfaces on video, the only viewers who will be impressed are those who’ve seen so little of the avant garde that its non-sequitur atrocities look like innovations.”–The Hollywood Reporter (Sundance screening)

6 thoughts on “LIST CANDIDATE: THE OREGONIAN (2011)”

  1. You know, this seems exactly like something I would enjoy watching. Just crazed, mind-numbing confusion. I want to watch it now actually. Everything that you said, negative or not, makes this movie sound super weird… I guess I just dig that sort of stuff. 🙂

  2. Since The Oregonian won’t be out for a while, in the meantime you can check out two of Reeder’s short films (both starting Pulsipher) at Atom Films. They are not as polished as The Oregonian but the end of “Little Farm,” at least, is weird and may presage the style that shows up in the feature.

  3. I saw this one at Sundance, I kind of hated this movie while watching, but I came around to it later after thinking about it. Didn’t feel like a Lynch movie to me, it felt like something new.

  4. It didn’t feel like a Lynch film to me either. Its random and weird but it didn’t make me think that Reeder was trying to copy Lynch. I just watched it on Amazon and thought it was great. Maybe there was some negative vibe at Sundance because another person that I talked to who likes weird movies said he saw it there and didn’t care for it. Or possibly the sound was too loud and that’s what made people walk out as well.
    There may be some flaws in this film in some of the details but as a whole I saw it as a surrealistic dream sequence/nightmare where the Oregonian’s past (more specifically, traumatic events and/or bad people) manifest themselves in these “random” acts and characters. In the end, she goes insane. She has killed “mommy” and “daddy” and is hysterical but happy about it because these two were the source of her mental and/or physical abuse. That’s what I got out of it and I thought it ultimately told an allegoric story within all of its weirdness. Of course there are other things happening in the film and places you can go for meaning but this is one theme that was for me at the forefront and held it together.
    Also, the sound design and music were used to tremendous affect to enhance the visuals as well as take audience further into the Oregonian’s psyche. I thought the soundtrack was very well done.
    The Omelet Man was my favorite!

  5. This movie was a giant pile of crap. The only good thing that came from it is the hours of comedic reviews on podcasts who find it stupid enough to point and laugh at.

  6. Just watched this movie on Hulu. ARE YOU F***ING KIDDING???!!! I have seen thousands of movies and love the “strange” that most people don’t or don’t understand. The Oregonian is by far the most ridiculous waste of celluloid I have EVER seen in 47 years. I just pray I can remove this pointless waste of an hour and a half of my life from my memory and move on. This writer should stop now before someone gets really mad at him for wasting their time and move to Kansas to raise pigs. I’m sure he would be much better at that. David Lynch he is not and needs to quit trying.

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