DIRECTED BY: Calvin Reeder
FEATURING: Lindsay Pulsipher, Robert Longstreet
PLOT: A young woman blacks out after an automobile accident on a lonely rural road, and 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)